Deportation fear sparks Rohingya exodus from India to Bangladesh

Indian officials accused of campaign of harassment against refugees who fled violence in Myanmar
Deportation fear sparks Rohingya exodus from India to Bangladesh

Rohingya refugees enter Bangladesh after crossing the Naf River by boat from Rakhine State, Myanmar on Sept. 30, 2017. (Photo by Stephan Uttom/ucanews.com)

At least 1,000 Rohingya Muslims have crossed into Bangladesh from India since December to escape alleged harassment and imminent deportation, according to Bangladeshi officials.

India's Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party-led government has drawn flak at home and from abroad in recent months over plans to deport thousands of Rohingya Muslims who have fled sectarian violence in Myanmar's Rakhine State since 2012.

Indian officials have also been accused of mounting a campaign of harassment against the refugees, 40,000 of whom tried to settle in various Indian states including Tripura, Assam, West Bengal and Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir.

"For the past year, the government of India has been making life difficult for Rohingya refugees," Ravi Nair, of the South Asia Human Rights Documentation Center, told Al Jazeera on Jan. 16.

"They are subjected to regular visits by local intelligence officials, which involves harassment about their paperwork, said Nair, who claimed at least 200 had been arrested or jailed.

The alleged harassment and feared deportations have prompted many to flee to Muslim-majority Bangladesh.

"From December until now more than 1,000 Rohingya refugees have arrived in Bangladesh from India to avoid deportation to Myanmar," Muhammad Abul Kalam, commissioner of Bangladesh's Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commission, told ucanews.com.

He said they have been resettled in the existing Rohingya refugee camps, adding that their arrival was potentially "troublesome."

"We are moving forward to resume refugee repatriation to Myanmar, so the new development is worrisome. Bangladesh and India need to come to terms bilaterally in order to resolve the issue," he said.

The Inter-Sectoral Coordination Group, a coordinating body overseeing international humanitarian assistance to Rohingya refugees in Cox's Bazar, put the number of arrivals from India at about 1,300 people.

India needs to be generous on the Rohingya issue, said Holy Cross Father Liton H. Gomes, secretary of the Catholic bishops' Justice and Peace Commission.

"On the Rohingya issue Bangladesh has shown laudable generosity. But the country has limited resources and needs generous support from other nations including neighboring India," Father Gomes told ucanews.com.

India's actions are surprising and disappointing, said Abu Morshed Chowdhury, president of Cox's Bazar Civil Society, a rights and anti-trafficking group in Cox's Bazar district, which shelters more than one million Rohingya Muslims who fled Buddhist persecution and deadly military crackdowns across the Myanmar border in Rakhine State.

"India and Bangladesh have maintained good diplomatic relations for a long time. It is shocking to see what India is doing with the Rohingya," Chowdhury told ucanews.com.

"Bangladesh needs to talk to India and make it realize that the nation is already overburdened with refugees, so they need to have a sympathetic view on the matter." 

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Muhammad Abdul, a Rohingya refugee from Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, said some 200 Rohingya Muslims from 50 families have arrived in the camp from India.

"They fled from India to avoid deportation to Myanmar. Here they are staying with their brothers. They have received identity cards, which allow them to get aid like us," said Abdul, who fled Maungdaw in Rakhine in 2017.   

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