In India, government plans to deport Rohingya refugees are raising concerns.
Thousands of the Muslim minority group have fled persecution in Mynmar, and now live in exile in neighbouring countries, including India.
But as Bismillah Geelani reports, Hindu nationalist groups have launched a campaign to drive them out of the country.
Seventy-year-old Muhammad Yakub was among the first Rohingya to flee violence in his home country, Myanmar and take refuge in India. He’s been living in a Delhi refugee camp since 2012. Life here is tough, but he has no regrets about coming to India.
“It was genocide going on there, so we just left everything behind and came here with our families to save our lives and our faith,” he said. “We have no facilities here; the government doesn’t help us and the UNHRC [United Nations Refugee Agency] has only given us a card and nothing else. But we are safe here."
Late last year entire villages in the western state of Rakhine were destroyed by fire, allegedly at the hands of the military. About 40,000 Rohingya are currently seeking refuge in India. But they’re all now afraid they’ll be forced to return to Mynamar, where they face ongoing violence.
Earlier this month, officials in India’s Ministry of External Affairs revealed that the government is working on a plan to track down Rohingya and deport them. The move follows intensified protests from Hindu nationalist groups, who claim Rohingya are a threat to India’s national security and should be expelled.
Ravinder Jain is a member of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which currently holds government.
“We have information that many of them [Rohingya refugees] are involved in anti-national activities,” Jain stated. “There has been a rise in incidents of theft, hooliganism and kidnapping because of these refugees. You can control law and order problems but these people are a threat to the nation, our national security is at risk because of them. Such people should not be given shelter under any circumstances, they should be immediately thrown out,” he said.
The Rohingya community and human rights advocates are deeply worried by the government’s stance. Raghu Menon from Amnesty International India says it runs counter to India’s long running practice of protecting refugees.
“This came as a shock for us because apart from it being a violation of India’s commitment under International Human Rights Law and Refugee Law, it would also go against the grain of humanitarian philosophy and policy India has always applied to people fleeing persecution,” Menon said.
In 2012, after riots and deadly clashes between Myanmar’s Buddhist majority and Muslim minority, thousands of Rohingya fled to India. The government - then led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh - allowed them to stay in India despite opposition from Hindu nationalist groups. But since Narendra Modi’s BJP Party came to power in 2014, the clamor to send them back has grown louder.
Last week, the Chamber of Trade and Commerce in the northern city of Jammu threatened to kill Rohingya refugees if the government doesn’t deport them. Rakesh Gupta is Vice President of the group.
“If their own country does not accept them, why should we? This is our last warning to the government; if they do not act and deport them within a month we are going to launch an “identify and kill” campaign against them. We believe we are perfectly justified to deal with them in any manner,” Gupta said.
Some political parties and civil society organizations have come out in support of Rohingya, urging the government to immediately rollback the deportation plan. Himmat Singh, president of the United Peace Movement says Rohingya are being singled out because of their religion.
“If Rohingya cannot live here, how can we justify giving shelter to other refugees? There are so many [refugees] here, we even have an exiled government here, and we invited the Dalai Lama and his people,” Singh commented. “Why are only Muslims being targeted? This is just communal politics and it is not doing us any good.”
Despite being home to thousands of refugees, India is not a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention, or the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees. The country doesn’t have any laws that protect the rights of refugees.
Raghu Menon, from Amnesty International India, says this leaves refugees in India in a very vulnerable position. “Because of the lack of law what has happened is asylum and refuge in India is granted on the whims and fancies of the people in power,” Menon explained.
“So today you might be welcome, tomorrow suddenly you are not welcome. And that should not happen. Granting refugee status and protecting people who are fleeing persecution is a humanitarian cause and need that every responsible government should adhere to.”