India agreed on Tuesday to take back 31 Rohingya stranded on the International Border between Bangladesh and Tripura on Tuesday, and sent them to custody with the Tripura Police.
The decision to take back the group of refugees consisting of 15 adults and 16 children including a 6-month old baby, who had been stuck in no-man’s land between the two countries since January 19, ended a standoff between Indian Border Security Force personnel, and the Border Guards Bangladesh.
However. officials warned that the 31 Rohingya are part of a much larger wave of more than 1,300 refugees who have fled India to go to Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazaar, which could lead to further diplomatic tensions between Dhaka and New Delhi.
India contested claims by Bangladeshi officials that the BSF was forcibly pushing the refugees over the border from its side.
“Government is aware of media reports of alleged movement into Bangladesh by some such persons. Government is not a party to such movements. We will work with our neighbours to handle such matters through mutual consultation," the official spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs said on Tuesday, adding that the 31 persons who were on the ‘Zero line’ on the India-Bangladesh border had been provided “necessary shelter, food and material” while their documentation was examined.
Sources said once they were given clear evidence the group had crossed over from the Indian side it was taken back by the Border Security Forces, and then handed to Tripura police, who has taken the adults into custody while the children will likely be sent to juvenile homes until their case is decided. A Tripura government official said that after Bangladesh refused to accept them, India decided to arrest them under the Passport Act.
Investigations revealed the Rohingya had been living in a Jammu camp since 2012 and were on their way to Cox’s Bazaar in Bangladesh when they were caught by Border Guards Bangladesh (BGB) in the early hours of January 19.
When asked how the BSF officials established that the detained persons were Rohingya, a senior government official told The Hindu that they had a card issued by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), India.
“At least two of them speak Hindi. They told us during investigation that they had been living in a Jammu camp for Rohingya since 2012 and were on their way to Cox’s Bazar. They took a train from Jammu to Delhi, then to Guwahati. They were in touch with someone in Cox’s Bazaar, they planned to cross over to Bangladesh from Tripura border through an unfenced patch when the BGB caught them. We are corroborating their claims,” said the official.
The MEA did not respond to a question on whether Rohingya are fleeing India.
According to Nayana Bose, Communications Officer of the Inter Sector Coordination Group (ISCG) “more than 1,300 individual Rohingya refugees –some 300 families—have recently arrived from India to Cox’s Bazar, in Bangladesh.”
“The new arrivals are being housed at the Transit Centre which is run by a number of partners, including UN Agencies, NGOs, the Bangladesh Red Crescent and others.” Ms Bose told The Hindu in response to a written query.
International Human Rights agencies like the office of the UN High Commission for Refugees have been calling on India to reconsider its plans to deport Rohingya back to Myanmar unless their safety is guaranteed, but the government has already repatriated two groups there. According to officials the repatriations, as well as the threat of attacks at their camps in Jammu, Delhi and other parts of the country are driving more and more Rohingya to flee India for the camps in Cox’s Bazaar which already house more than 7,00,000 refugees. On Monday night, Tripura Police apprehended another group of 30 Rohingya Muslims travelling on a Guwahati-bound bus at Churaibari, believed to be trying to travel across the border as well.
As per Home Ministry’s estimate, there are around 40,000 Rohingya in India, of which around 5,700 are in Jammu. Of these, only 16,000 are said to be registered with the United Nations, most of whom came in 2012-13 when thousands of Rohingya were displaced following waves of violence in the Rakhine state of Myanmar. A major crackdown by the Myanmar security forces in 2017 in Rakhine state where thousands of Rohingya were killed, drove another wave of refugees to Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazaar, which is now the world’s largest camp.