Hardly a day passes without Mubeen-ur-Rahman, a Rohingya Muslim living in makeshift hut in northern India’s Jammu region, buying a newspaper and scanning its pages, one by one.
The 19-year-old grocery store salesman is fearful like thousands of other Rohingya Muslims these days about the threat of deportation to Myanmar.
India’s Hindu nationalist-led Bhatiya Janata Party (BJP) government passed a law in December called the Citizenship Amendment Act which aims to make illegal Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian immigrants from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan eligible for Indian citizenship. Muslims however are excluded.
Mubeen says India is preparing to deport Rohingya Muslims using this law to fulfil a BJP election promise made before it was re-elected with a thumping majority in May 2019.
India’s federal government says Rohingya Muslim refugees are involved in terrorist activities. However, it has not been able to prove the claim.
But with the new law, Rohingya Muslims see their chances of taking shelter in India disappearing rapidly.
“Once the law is enacted, we shall have no legal recourse to stay in India. We would be perceived as criminals and no one will give us work,” Mubeen said.
His fears appeared to take a step closer on Jan. 4, when he read news that a senior federal minister, Dr Jiterndra Singh, had said that the deportation of Rohingya refugees from India was now a matter of days away.
“Jammu had a sizeable Rohingya population and a list would be prepared, and their biometrics would also be collected. They’ll have to leave India…. The government is considering ways to deport them,” Singh said in a statement reported Gulf News.
Mubeen fled his village in Myanmar’s Rakhine State to avoid violent persecution against the Rohingya in 2012.
More recently over a million Rohingya fled Myanmar, mostly to Bangladesh, since August 2017 to escape atrocities committed by the military, which a U.N. fact-finding mission described as genocide.
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees also used the term ethnic cleansing to describe the exodus of Rohingya from Myanmar.
The Myanmar government refuses to accept the Rohingya minority as citizens and considers them migrants from Bangladesh.
Thousands also fled to the Indian city of Jammu. There they built camps on rented land and crammed themselves into makeshift tenements.
According to government figures, there are 1,219 Rohingya families, living in where the majority eke out a living as laborers.
“Who wants a life of a refugee. We want to go home but our homes have become the mouth of a beast that will swallow us all,” Mubeen said.
Tasselma Khatoon, a Rohingya woman who is mother of two daughters, told LiCAS.news that life is difficult living in a hut which can barely fit three people.
She said she hates where she’s living, especially having to put up with cockroaches that crawl over their food all the time.
“I cannot even tell you the pain I feel when I see my children get skin rashes in hot summers and colds during winters. If this is not hell, I wonder what is,” she said.
In summers, temperatures sometime exceed 45 degrees and is excruciating, especially for children she said.
“It is only to save our lives and the lives of our children that we are here. We want to return to Myanmar but only when the government agrees not to treat us as terrorists or kill us,” Khatoon said.
Abdul Raheem, an 81-year-old Rohingya man whose son was killed in Myanmar in 2017 now lives with his wife in Jammu.
He is in poor health and the couple mostly rely on charity from locals to survive. Raheem said he craves to go back to Myanmar where he has spent all his life.
“I pray that I will be buried in Myanmar. I don’t a grave in a foreign land like this. But going back to a place where death dances every day is unthinkable,” Raheem said.
He wants the Indian government to ensure the Rohingya in India will be safe in Myanmar before deporting them. “Why does the Indian government want us all to get killed in Myanmar? Because we are not Hindus and belong to a different faith,” Raheem said.