2 August 2023
India should cease a crackdown on Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution and investigate human rights violations by its officials, an NGO group has urged after it said an investigation had found the refugees faced illegal arrests, beatings, and even the forceful separation of an infant from the mother.
Sectarian violence has, over the decades, displaced more than a million Rohingya from Buddhist-majority Myanmar, with most claiming asylum in Bangladesh. Some groups also travel to India, where a report by rights group Fortify Rights documented evidence of Indian authorities beating Rohingya refugees, denying them due process rights, and indefinitely detaining hundreds, in some cases for several years.
The group said immigration officials in late July detained dozens of Rohingya in northern Uttar Pradesh state, while in a separate incident a week earlier, hundreds of refugees in Jammu faced tear gas and beatings after protesting their indefinite detention, including through a hunger strike.
“India should provide a safe haven for Rohingya fleeing genocidal attacks and other international crimes in Myanmar,” said Zaw Win, human rights specialist at Fortify Rights. “Rather than continuing their persecution, the Indian government should allow Rohingya refugees access to legal status, education, livelihoods and freedom of movement.”
Fearing arbitrary arrest by Indian authorities, some Rohingya refugees were said to have fled from India to Bangladesh, the group said.
John Quinley III, a director at Fortify Rights, told This Week in Asia that India should uphold the rights of refugees and urgently end the detention of Rohingya Muslims.
“We found that Rohingya children, youth, women and men are all detained,” Quinley said, adding that Rohingya youth who want to be educated and serve their community were instead being detained for years on end.
He noted India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had been casting the community in a negative light.
“Many BJP politicians over the years have stirred up anti-Rohingya sentiment, using discriminatory language and policy,” Quinley said.
In recent years, the BJP has called illegal migrants a threat to national security while on social media, many right-wing Hindu and BJP activists describe the Rohingya Muslims as “terrorists”.
Many Hindu groups have also demanded the expulsion of Rohingyas from India.
Rohingya Muslims have long faced violence and discrimination in Myanmar, where many in the country see them as illegal migrants from Bangladesh. According to the United Nations, about 40,000 Rohingya have fled to India from Myanmar, most of them in 2017 after the country’s military cracked down on Rohingyas in the country’s western Rakhine state.
Customary international law and Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which India is a state party, forbids the arbitrary, unlawful, or indefinite detention of any person, including refugees and migrants.
Other organisations have called on India to stop collaborating with Myanmar’s military, which seized power in the February 2021 coup and is responsible for the plight of the refugees.
Nay San Lwin, co-founder of the Free Rohingya Coalition, said India should cease collaborating with Myanmar’s junta and instead support efforts to bring democracy and peace to Myanmar.
“Once the criminals are brought to justice in Myanmar, India will no longer need to host refugees from Myanmar,” he said.
Nay San Lwin said even though at least half of the 40,000 Rohingya refugees in India were recognised by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, they faced long-term detention and imprisonment.
Noting that no Rohingya wanted permanent settlement either in India or Bangladesh, Nay San Lwin said they all wished to return to their homeland once the situation in Myanmar stabilised and the rights of the Rohingya were restored.
“None of them aim to burden public resources; they want the opportunity to work and provide education for their children, just like other refugees around the world,” he said.
“Detaining, [as well as] mentally and physically torturing the refugees tarnishes the image of India and its democracy,” Nay San Lwin said, adding that the Indian government should review its refugee policies.