New Delhi, India – Dozens of Rohingya refugees have been detained while they were camping outside the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in the Indian capital, New Delhi – the second such move in a week.
“A total of 88 people have been detained,” an officer at Vikaspuri police station in the capital’s southwest told Al Jazeera over telephone on Thursday.
Police official Vikas, who only gave his first name, said 17 of those detained were pregnant women and children, who underwent medical tests at a UNHCR facility in Vikaspuri.
He said the remaining 71 Rohingya were taken to a shelter in the capital’s Inderlok area.
Rohingya community leaders said the refugees had come to New Delhi on Wednesday from Jammu district in Indian-administered Kashmir, where more than 160 Rohingya were detained last week and taken to a “holding centre” in Kathua district, 59km (36 miles) away.
Officials in Jammu said the detained Rohingya will be deported to their homeland, Myanmar.
The Rohingya crisis came to the world’s attention after some 700,000 of them fled an army crackdown in Myanmar’s Rakhine state in 2017. However, a large number of the mainly-Muslim ethnic minority had been seeking refuge in neighbouring countries before that.
Bangladesh hosts more than a million Rohingya in cramped and squalid camps in its coastal Cox’s Bazar district, turning the sprawling settlement into the world’s largest refugee camp.
India hosts about 40,000 Rohingya living in camps and slums in many cities and regions, including Jammu, Hyderabad, Nuh and New Delhi.
Though the UNHCR provides them refugee cards, many of the Rohingya living in Indian settlements are believed to be undocumented.
On Wednesday, the detained Rohingya had camped outside the UNHCR office in Vikaspuri, hoping to renew their refugee cards and seek help from the UN body amid fears of detention.
“A police team came at around 2am [on Thursday or 20:30 GMT on Wednesday] and told us to get into a bus,” Mohammad Zubair, 20, who had been living with his family in a camp in Jammu for the last eight years.
After undergoing a test for COVID-19, they were taken to a government shelter.
“This is a jail-type of facility for refugees,” Mohammad Rafiq told Al Jazeera over the telephone, adding that policemen told them this is where they will live from now on.
“We came to Delhi to get our cards renewed and seek help from the UNHCR. If we had any knowledge we would be brought here, we would not have left Jammu. Due to the fear of being sent to the detention centre in Kathua, we came here and here we are now in detention.”
Sabber Kyaw Min, founder and director of New Delhi-based Rohingya Human Rights Initiative, said the ongoing detentions have “instilled an environment of fear in the Rohingya community” and called it a “failure of the UNHCR” in protecting them.
“India has no problem in accepting refugees from other countries. Refugees from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Tibet, even Buddhist refugees from Myanmar are living here but the Indian government has problems with us only,” he told Al Jazeera.
“We are here temporarily and appeal to the Indian government to let us live here until the situation improves in Myanmar,” he said, referring to the military coup and subsequent unrest in the Buddhist-majority country.
At least 50 people have been killed by the security forces in near-daily protests in Myanmar against the February 1 coup.
More than a dozen Myanmar police and army officers have reportedly fled to India after the coup, saying they did not want to follow the military’s orders to “shoot till they [protesters] are dead”.
In a statement late on Wednesday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the Indian government should “halt any plans to deport ethnic Rohingya and others to Myanmar, where they would be at risk from its oppressive military junta”.
“Myanmar’s long-abusive military is even more lawless now that it is back in power, and the Indian government should uphold its international law obligations and protect those in need of refuge within its borders,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, HRW’s South Asia director.
Over the years, Indian right-wing groups have also campaigned against the Rohingya living in Jammu and other parts of India, demanding for them to be sent back.
In February 2017, billboards appeared in Jammu, asking the residents to “wake up … save history, culture and identity” and calling the Rohingya “Bangladeshis” and asking them to “quit Jammu”.
“We all are scared,” Adul Rahim, 48, told Al Jazeera from Jammu. “What happened with us in Burma [Myanmar’s earlier name], same thing is being repeated here.”