Rohingya refugees Taslima, 35, Zaffar Hussain, 39, and Shahid Hussain, 10, pray as Rizwan, 3, looks on before eating their Iftar meal at their house in a camp, during the fasting month of Ramadan and amid the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in New Delhi, India April 30, 2020. (Representative Image: Reuters/Anushree Fadnavis)
Scores of Rohingya who fled persecution in Myanmar are being held in a detention centre in the Indian territory of Jammu and Kashmir, an official said on March 7, after being rounded up ahead of their expected deportation to the protest-wracked nation.
At least 168 people from the Muslim minority from Buddhist-dominated Myanmar have been picked up by authorities in the northern territory since March 6, according to Mukesh Singh, Inspector General of Police, Jammu.
"After nationality verification of these illegal immigrants, details will be sent to the Ministry of External Affairs in Delhi to be taken up with Myanmar for their deportation," Singh told AFP.
Some 5,000 Rohingya are believed to live in Jammu and Kashmir, Singh said.
Most live in slums in Hindu-majority Jammu, where they say they have faced threats to their lives.
"It's better to shoot us all dead here than send us to Burma (Myanmar) where we will be rained with bullets anyway," Rafique, a Rohingya told AFP in a phone call on March 7.
"We haven't slept since police started rounding us up and separating our children from their families," Rafique, who lives in Jammu's Bathindi slum area, added.
The United Nations says there are 16,000 registered Rohingya in India, but many more are believed to be undocumented.
The Hindu-nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has for years asked state and territory governments to identify and deport the approximately 40,000 Rohingya it says are living in India.
New Delhi has described the Rohingya as a security threat and accused them of having links with the Islamic State and other Muslim extremist groups — charges denied by the community's leaders.
Officials did not say why there was a push now to deport the stateless group, who have long suffered persecution in their homeland where they are denied freedom of movement and citizenship.
Almost a million Rohingya live in sprawling camps in neighbouring Bangladesh, with many having fled Myanmar after a bloody military crackdown in 2017.
Human Rights Watch had previously urged India, the world's largest democracy, to follow the international principle of non-refoulement, which prohibits sending refugees back to places where their lives are in danger.
Myanmar is also now in the grip of mass protests after a February 1 coup ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
On March 6 officials said scores of Myanmar nationals had gathered at the border with India waiting to join 48 others — including eight police officers — who had entered the north-eastern state of Mizoram in a bid to escape the turmoil in their homeland.
Myanmar authorities have asked India to send back the police officers.