Updated: March 8, 2021 9:50:25 am
Inside a row of tin sheds on the outskirts of Jammu city, they waited — four hungry children for their parents, a mother for her son, a wife for her husband.
At Kiryani Talab in Narwal on the outskirts of Jammu city, these are the family members of some of the 168 Rohingya men and women who were detained Saturday after being found without valid documents during a police exercise to collect biometric details of the refugees from Myanmar.
“When our parents did not return home yesterday, we cried and fell asleep without having food. I still don’t know where they are or when they will return,’’ says Mohammad-ul-Hassan, 11. Looking on are his siblings Jaibullah (8), Noor Hassan (7) and Asma Jan (4).
According to their neighbours, Hassan’s parents Mohammad Hussain and Ismat Ara reached Jammu from Myanmar around eight years ago — Noor Hassan and Asma Jan were born here.
All of those detained have been lodged at the Hiranagar sub-jail, which has been converted into a holding centre, with IGP (Jammu) Mukesh Singh saying that they face deportation back to Myanmar following verification by their embassy. But with 5,000-6,000 Rohingya having set up camps at various sites on the outskirts of Jammu over the past decade following “extreme persecution” in Myanmar, the police move has triggered despair and anger.
On Sunday, a large number of Rohingya marched from Narwal towards Mecca Masjid in the Bhatindi area, accusing police of asking them to step out of their homes again for verification. They dispersed after being stopped midway by a large contingent of police. “No one was picked up on Sunday to be taken to the holding centre,” a senior police officer said.
In Kiryani Talab, meanwhile, Haseena Begum is waiting for her son Ibrahim and daughter-in-law Sajida Bibi. “The plot owner came around 4 pm yesterday and told people here that they have been called by police. Some of them took their children along as well, but the police made the children return and took the adults. Since then, I haven’t seen Ibrahim or his wife. His mobile phone is also switched off,” she says. Giving Begum company are her seven grandchildren aged 3-12.
A few steps away, Sara Khan (20) is waiting for her husband Abdullah, a daily wage labourer who left Saturday evening “saying that he has been called to the local police station”. “I called him on his mobile yesterday but he didn’t know where he had been taken to. His phone is now switched off,’’ she says, cradling her month-old infant in her arms.
“The authorities should have taken children along with their parents to the holding centre. Now who will look after them and provide food? This is inhuman,” says Jaffarullah, who came to Jammu from Myanmar in 2012.
On Saturday, the J&K police began an exercise to collect details of Rohingya in Jammu. IGP Singh said that 168 Rohingya, including women, have been held “as they were staying here without any valid documents”. The next step, he said, was “to contact their embassy for verification of their nationality and then initiate the process for their deportation”. Asked about their UNHCR cards, Singh said “they do not authorise them to stay here”.
On Sunday, the IGP and other senior officials were not available for comment. But J&K BJP chief Ravinder Raina claimed that the action followed a request from Myanmar’s External Affairs Ministry to deport the Rohingya back for resettlement. “Anyone who has to leave his native land will certainly be happy to return home,’’ Raina said.
In its election manifesto for the 2014 assembly elections, the BJP had promised to deport the Rohingya back to Myanmar. Saturday’s action came a day after the administration set up a holding centre under the Foreigners Act at the Hiranagar sub-jail in Kathua with a capacity to lodge 250 people.
“I came to Jammu 11 years ago with my wife and two children. We had two more children in India. All our children got married when we were staying at Narwal,’’ says Abu Ahmed, 55. “If the Indian government tells us to leave, we will return to our native land. But there should be no harassment there as we had fled Myanmar due to extreme persecution.”
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