“There is a lot of violence there. There’s no employment for us. There is no media to represent us. If the Indian government wants to deport us, it can deport us anywhere else, but we can’t return to Burma,” says Mohammad*, a Rohingya refugee living in one of Delhi’s camps.
He is afraid to disclose his identity or reveal the name of the camp.
The other 240 residents of the camp have similar opinion. Fear and suspicion have gripped Rohingya refugees across the country after seven refugees were deported to Myanmar last month.
“I don’t know Hindi,” said another refugee while speaking in clear Hindi, absolutely reluctant about speaking to the media. His hostility towards a person holding up a camera and mic was evident.
Women cover their faces with veils and hijabs the moment they see a “media wala”. Even children run away, or threaten with their tiny fists if one points a camera at them.
“Police told us that the media has shown us in a negative light before. We might say something here, but it might be misquoted or taken out of context.”
Another resident of the camp who did not wish to be named
‘Amme Myanmar Bengali’
The Indian government on Thursday, 4 October, deported seven Rohingya refugees lodged in Assam’s Silchar prison to Myanmar. They had entered the country in 2012. On a plea challenging their deportation, the Supreme Court had said it found the seven Rohingyas “illegal immigrants”.
However, the deportation of the seven Rohingyas by the Supreme Court isn’t the only reason for the fear. For the past two weeks, police has been visiting these camps and distributing forms for ‘nationality verification.’
While such form have been filled by the refugees before, certain sections of the new form are bothering the refugees.
The form, accessed by The Quint, has a cover letter attached to it which states that the form is being issued by the Myanmar Embassy, which is a major cause of concern for many in the camp.
“These forms are essentially a second set of verification. The first set of verification was done around November 2017. The cover letter with the form indicates that the forms have been issued by the embassy of Myanmar and the embassy is passing it on to the ministry of Home Affairs ,” a human rights lawyer told The Quint on conditions of anonymity.
“There is skepticism for a lot of reasons because the cover letter states that the form comes from the Embassy. You can imagine that if a person is fleeing persecution of a state, and the embassy of the state is asking the asylum-giving country to fill forms and get details from the individuals, it’s a little suspicious,” the lawyer said.
The difference between the new form and the form filled last year is the text mentioned in Burmese along with English translation. While this can be argued as “convenience of understanding the form better”, the very first point while filling the details has worried the refugees further.
According to a News18.com report, the form starts with ‘1. Amme Myanmar Bengali’ and ‘2. Akrin Ame Myanmar Bengali’, which when translated means those filling the forms are prefixing their ‘name’ and ‘other name’ with the declaration that ‘I am a Bengali in Myanmar’.
Refugees fear that the section demolishes the community’s entire fight for identity in the state of Myanmar.
‘Scared That Data Will Be Shared With Myanmar’
Rafi*, another resident of the camp, said they are scared the information will be shared with the Myanmar government.
“People are scared because we feel the information will be shared with the Burmese embassy who have conducted genocide against us. The Indian government can take as much data as it wants from us. That is not the concern. Not that we have an option. But the Burmese government has tortured us, raped us and destroyed our community, that is why we had to flee,” said Rafi.
While there have been reports of intimidation by police in some camps across India in other states, refugees said the Delhi police was very polite to them and explained that the forms won’t be used to deport them.
“All of us tried not to fill the forms. But ACP sahib came yesterday. He was really polite to us. He explained to us that the forms won’t be used to deport us. There was no intimidation in our camp by the police. They were nice to us. ACP sahib even had a meal with us. We completely trust SHO sahib, but we have heard of reports from other camps,” said Mohammad.
Another major concern that is worrying the refugees is the details of the relatives living in Myanmar being asked in the form. They feel the details, if shared, might be used to to target their relatives back home.
Rafi said they don’t mind sharing as much personal information with the Indian government, but the details of the relatives being asked is worrisome.
“They are asking for the data of the relatives who live in Burma. We are scared that if the data is shared with them, the Burmese government might target them,” he added.
“There are certain sections in the form which asks us for the name and other details of any relatives we have in Burma. We were scared to fill that because we don’t want them to get into trouble,” said Mohammad.
The Myanmar embassy told News18.com that “such a form was not sent by the Govt of Myanmar since a foreign country cannot collect details from another nation”.
Also Read : Centre to Deport 7 Rohingyas; Plea Moved in SC to Restrain Govt
If Refugees Posses UN Cards, Is There a Need for Verification?
India has around 40,000 Rohingya Refugees, 17,000 of whom have refugee cards certified by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Many refugees, who possess the UNHCR cards might argue the need of a verification for, but the Indian laws work differently.
“In India, they are not considered refugees, they are considered illegal immigrants,” said Raushan Tara Jaswal, a human rights lawyer.
“India does not have a refugee policy. With the foreigner’s act, the only tool of identification is the Passport and whatever Indian documentation you have to prove that you’re an Indian. Indian government directly has the power to identify certain people either as refugees or illegal immigrants. It’s a very ad hoc policy. Whoever is the ruling government, it is that government’s stand that is adopted at that particular time,” she said.
“Currently, the BJP government is in power. At this point, even if the refugees have UNHCR cards, the government is saying that these cards mean nothing in the Indian laws, and they are right about it, they are right about the legalities of what they are saying. It’s up to them as to when to identify them as refugees and use the UNHCR cards as valid proof of documentation,” she added.
Jaswal said that with the current government’s stance, the only alternative the refugees have other than the UNHCR cards to prevent deportation is to directly approach the UN.
“But that’s been a failure because the countries need to cooperate,” said Jaswal.
“Want UN To Intervene”
Rafi said if nationality verification is to be done, it should be done by UN or any other third party, so there’s no fear of their details being shared.
“If our nationality verification is to be done, we want that it happens with third party intervention. We want UN to intervene. Verifications have happened in the past as well. It’s not that we want to live in India forever. We want to go back. But we want to be safe and dignified when we return . We want that our citizenship there is restored again. We are eye witnesses to the violence that has taken place,” said Rafi.
“Get 100 forms filled, we dont mind. Deport us to any other country, we don’t mind. But don’t send us to Burma,” he said.
Rafi expressed concern that if the information is used to deport them, they will end up in one of the concentration camps in Burma.
“Over 1 lakh people in Burma are in concentration camps since 2012. They don’t want us to live. They just want us to die, be it of hunger, or bullets or famine. So why would we want to return? ” said Rafi.