Amid growing protests and increasing violence in Myanmar due to a military coup, Assam police last Thursday made a failed attempt to repatriate a 15-year-old Rohingya refugee into the neighbouring country.
She was taken to Moreh, a village on the Myanmar border in Manipur, to hand her over to border forces of India’s strife-torn neighbor. But, the gate that marks the border between the two countries never opened.
“Her repatriation did not take place because of internal reasons in Myanmar,” Bhanwar Lal Meena, Superintendent of Police Cachar district Assam told Article 14, a research-based website.
Rukhsana (name changed by the website) was detained a couple of years back for illegally entering India, alone. The minor refugee entering the country alone is still a mystery.
It was in 2017 when Mohammed Jaber, his wife and five children had fled to Bangladesh’s Cox Bazar refugee camp after the genocide was perpetrated on the minority Muslim Rohingya by the army in Buddhist-majority Myanmar.
In 2019, the 15-year-old girl went missing from the camp and two weeks later, on 17 October 2019, Jaber received a call that his daughter was found by the police in Silchar’s town of Assam.
Rukhsana reportedly alleged that her father wanted to marry her to an older relative, which is why she chose to run away. Jaber denied the accusation, the Article 14 report states.
“I have not been able to eat properly since then,” says Jaber. “I miss my daughter.”
Whether or not Rukhsana ran away from Bangaldesh camp is not clear as yet, but she certainly does not want to go back. She is currently in custody of Nivedita Nari Sangstha, a Silchar based NGO.
India’s attempt to deport Rukhsana even as she has no family members left there and that she completely lost touch with her native language Ruáingga is indicative of its insensitive bureaucratic approach towards refugees, especially Rohingyas.
India drew severe criticism for its move. “The situation in Myanmar is not yet conducive for voluntary return in a safe, secure, and sustainable manner, and returning the child to Myanmar may place her at immediate risk of serious harm,” a UNHCR spokesperson told Reuters.
Silchar-based human rights activist Kamal Chakraborty called this attempt to deport the girl “inhuman”. He was quoted by Hindustan Times, saying: “How did the Indian government even think of sending a minor girl to that country? This is a clear case of human rights violation. We are going to write a letter to the Ministry of External Affairs about it. We are also going to give her proper shelter so that she doesn’t become a victim of such attempts in future.”
Since August 2017, more than 740,000 Rohingya have fled their homes in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State after the military unleashed a brutal campaign of violence against them, Amnesty said.