As a second wave of COVID-19 has swept across India, infection and death rates have skyrocketed across the country. On 1 May, some 392,488 new cases were reported–the largest one-day increase on record for any country–as well as 3,689 deaths, although observers suggest that real figures may be significantly higher.
Despite COVID rates surging since March, authorities have continued to arrest and detain non-nationals. In early March, an estimated 170 Rohingya refugees were detained in the city of Jammu (Kashmir), after police conducted raids in camps and summoned others to a “verification” exercise. Placed in a “holding centre” in Hiranagar (the Hiranagar Jail, which was reportedly converted into an immigration detention facility that same month), the group were subsequently informed of plans to deport them to Myanmar. Despite several Rohingya refugees challenging the deportation order, on 8 April the Supreme Court rejected an application to stay the deportation of the group, even as violent unrest in Myanmar surged following the 1 February coup. During the hearing, the Chief Justice of India (CJI) commented, “Possibly that is the fear that if they go back to Myanmar, they will be slaughtered. But we cannot control all that. . . We are not called upon to condemn or condone genocide.” The court also accepted the government’s claim that Rohingya refugees constitute a threat to internal security, while also failing to consider the applicability of non-refoulement. Members of the Rohingya community have called the decision a “death warrant.” (To-date, the GDP has been unable to confirm whether the planned deportation has been conducted.)
This case is part of a wider set of restrictions targeting Muslim communities in India since the Modi government came to power in 2014. In 2017, local BJP leaders in Jammu launched a campaign demanding the expulsion of all Rohingya from the region. In West Bengal, where elections are currently being held, the BJP has vowed to deport all Rohingya if the party wins.
Elsewhere in Assam, authorities have been detaining purported “illegal foreigners” (largely Bengali-speaking Muslims) in six detention centres. As previously reported on this platform, in April 2020 the country’s supreme court called for the release of people who had been detained for more than two years–and if they were able to produce two sureties worth 5000 rupees (approximately 53.33 GBP). However, as one observer commented, the court’s decision was not influenced by the dangers posed by COVID to detained populations, “Instead the reasoning implicitly belies the punitive motivation behind detention, by basing release on the amount of time ‘served’.”
- BBC, “India Covid: Delhi Running Out of Space for Cremations,” 30 April 2021, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-56939011
- Kashmir Observer, “Hira Nagar Jail Turned Into ‘Holding Centre’ for Rohingyas,” 2 April 2021, https://kashmirobserver.net/2021/04/02/hira-nagar-jail-turned-into-holding-centre-for-rohingyas/
- M. Malhi, “How Covid-19 Measures Reinforce the Indefinite Detention of India’s ‘Foreigners,’” Border Criminologies, 3 July 2020, https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/research-subject-groups/centre-criminology/centreborder-criminologies/blog/2020/07/how-covid-19-0
- H. Ellis-Petersen and A. Hassan, “India Detains Rohingya Refugees and Threatens to Deport Them to Myanmar,” The Guardian, 8 March 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/mar/08/india-detains-rohingya-refugees-and-threatens-to-deport-them-to-myanmar
- S. Sarkar, “Deporting Rohingyas to the Slaughter House: Dilution of the “Non- Refoulement” Principle,” Times of India, 18 April 2021, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/blogs/sarkari-thoughts/deporting-rohingyas-to-the-slaughter-house-dilution-of-the-non-refoulement-principle/?source=app&frmapp=yes
- C.U. Singh, “Supreme Court Must Rethink its Order on Deportation of Rohingya Refugees,” 26 April 2021, https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/rohingya-refugees-crisis-india-supreme-court-7288913/
- Reuters, “‘Supreme Court has Signed our Death Warrant’: Rohingya in India,” 9 April 2021, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/4/9/supreme-court-has-signed-our-death-warrant-rohingya-in-india
- Rohingya Refugees Along with their Luggage outside a Mosque in Jammu, Kashmir (J. Singh, EPA, “India Detains Rohingya Refugees and Threatens to Deport them to Myanmar,” The Guardian, 8 March 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/mar/08/india-detains-rohingya-refugees-and-threatens-to-deport-them-to-myanmar)