On April 1, Indian authorities were greeted with a surprise when their request to deport a Rohingya girl was turned down by Myanmar.
Immigration officials in Myanmar refused to accept the 14-year-old girl on the ground that the border gate between the two countries had been shut for the last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the situation in their country was not suitable for the proceedings to take place.
The girl was taken by the police from India’s northeastern state of Assam to an international checkpoint along the country’s border with Myanmar for deportation. She was handed back to the shelter home where she has been living in Silchar.
“She will continue to live in the shelter home for the time being. The process of deportation would be started again but the outcome will depend upon the situation in Myanmar,” said a police official who did not wish to be named.
The episode has attracted widespread media attention, with activists and NGOs disapproving the Indian government’s decision to deport the minor girl to Myanmar. Workers at the Silchar-based Nibedita Nari Sangsta (NNS), where she has been lodged, were quoted by the media as saying that the girl did not want to return to Myanmar. She reportedly pleaded for reunion with her family in Bangladesh.
In 2017, India’s Ministry of Home Affairs had issued instructions to all states and union territories in the country that Rohingya “illegal migrants” must be identified and deported without delay. A year later, 40 people from the community were deported to Myanmar after they completed jail terms for illegal entry into the country from Bangladesh.
According to the UNHCR, there are about 17,000 Rohingya refugees in India, but there are also many among the community in the country who have not been accounted for. They are mostly settled in Jammu, Hyderabad, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi-National Capital Region and Rajasthan.
On April 8, the Supreme Court ruled that the refugees detained in Jammu could not be deported without following the prescribed process. The order, however, did not bar the government from continuing the process of deportation in the future.
Bangladesh has been reluctant to accept the Rohingya refugees who illicitly crossed over to India. An overwhelming majority of the refugees, numbering close to a million, are lodged at the camps in the country’s coastal district of Cox’s Bazar.
The forced immigration of the Rohingya began in the late 1970s and only increased over time. More than 700,000 were uprooted from their homes in Myanmar’s Rakhine State in late 2017 following operations launched by the Tatmadaw (the Myanmar military). The trigger for the military offensive came after a series of raids on government establishments by the militant Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) led by Ataullah abu Ammar Jununu who was earlier based in Saudi Arabia.
It is not yet clear how the 14-year-old Rohingya girl made her entry into India around two years ago when she was detained by the police at Silchar in Assam along with three women from the same community. She was sent to a childcare institution run by the Nibedita Nari Sangstha while the others were lodged at a detention centre.
The police contacted the girl’s father at a camp in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar with a request to come to Assam with his passport to take her back. But he neither had a passport, nor any official documents unlike some other Rohingya refugees in the country who had been provided digital documentation.