“None feel at home,” says Rohingya refugee threatened with deportation

The land Rohingyas have set up their camp was offered by Zakat Foundation of India, an NGO in India. Farah Rafeeq/Maktoob

Abdul Rohim’s 8-year-old daughter, who till now has only seen her real home in pictures, wants to leave India and go back. She was just 6-month-old when her family fled Myanmar’s ongoing genocide against Muslims and took refuge in India in 2014. 

“None of my children could ever feel at home here,” said Rohim, a 49-year-old refugee from the Rohingya community who settled down in Channi Rama area of Jammu city in one of the refugee camps to avoid persecution back in Myanmar. 

Rohim’s eldest son, 26, was amongst the 170 Rohingya Muslims who were detained during mass detention in 2021 and has since then been held in Hiranagar sub-jail that was declared as a holding centre for lodging Rohingya refugees in March.

With his son behind the bars and the constant threat of deportation, Rohim like many other Rohingya Muslims feels insecure. While many are already fleeing to Bangladesh from India, for people like Rohim leaving the country with no source of money and kin in jail feels impossible. 

As per UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, refugees have the right to seek asylum in another country, and the right not to be returned to a country where they face a threat to their life. Since October 2018, the Indian authorities have threatened to deport Rohingya Muslims back to Myanmar despite risks to their lives and security.

The Indian government has continued to call the Rohingya refugees “illegal immigrants” and a “threat to national security”. 

Last month, Hasina Begum, 36, was deported despite an order by the Manipur State Human Rights Commission putting the deportation on hold. Begum, her husband and three children are all registered as refugees with UNHCR.

After the security situation worsened in Myanmar, Rohim, like many other Rohingya Muslims decided to flee. He left four of his children in Bangladesh with their grandmother and moved ahead to India with his seven children and wife.

After eighteen days of non-stop travelling, he reached India. Following a fellow refugee’s advice, Rohim booked train tickets for his family and himself and eventually reached Jammu. “After working as a cleaner for three months, I finally joined a non-profit. Since then I have worked as an interview translator for refugees coming into India,” he said. 

However, due to the instability, Rohim had to leave his job. In 2021, he started teaching at a coaching centre for the Rohingya refugee children.

“Sometimes I get my salary and sometimes I don’t,” he said

The UNHCR has provided refugee identification proofs to the Rohingya Muslim refugees for their protection, identity management and documentation. In the past year, Rohim has only managed to meet his son twice due to the fear of being detained. “All of my children including him were UNHCR refugee cardholders, still they [police] arrested him,” said Rohim. “I don’t think I will be able to see him ever again.”

Recently, he saw a man being separated from his family when all of his family members were arrested and taken away. Rohim is in constant fear of being separated from his family and never able to meet his son again.

“I feel like crying when I think about it,” said Rohim. 

For a few years after fleeing the genocide, Rohim said that he lived peacefully in India until the current BJP government started to order deportations of Rohingya Muslims. “If we could, we would have left India immediately but we have nowhere to go,” he said. 

After seeing the current situation of Muslims around India, Rohim believes that the biggest reason for the ongoing threat of deportations is their “Muslim identity”.  “We are under oppression right now because we believe in Kalma,” said Rohim. “Human rights exist beyond religions but that is not the case here.”

Maktoob tried speaking to Chandan Kohli, the current Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Jammu, however, he declined to comment on the issue. 

The Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) on Wednesday demanded the identification and deportation of “illegally-settled” Bangladeshis and Rohingya Muslims within a specified time frame by setting up an anti-infiltrator cell in each district. 

Earlier this month, Jammu and Kashmir police detained over two dozen Rohingya refugees who were part of a Tablighi Jamaat group in Kathua jail. 

Amnesty India condemned the detention of the two dozen Rohingya Muslims by the Jammu and Kashmir police in Ramban district on Friday, calling it “an abject dereliction of India’s human rights obligations and an egregious violation of international law”.

Mohammad Aalam, a Rohingya refugee is a member of Tablighi Jamaat. While he was gone on a Tablighi mission for forty days, his 18-year-old son Kaleem Ullah was detained. “He was arrested on my behalf,” Aalam told Maktoob. 

The fresh wave of arrests has yet again triggered panic amongst the refugees living in Jammu. Aalam who came to India in 2021 said that he fled Myanmar to save his family from being killed and burnt. “There [in Myanmar] was a threat to our religion and lives. Since the arrests, there is fear amongst all of us now,” he said.

“I am not at peace.”