Rohingya refugees have fled Myanmar since the year 2000. More than 7,000 rohingya refugees migrated to seek asylum in India's erstwhile state of J&K's Jammu province lying on the banks of the river Tawi. Among the refugees, most of whom migrated from Myanmar in 2012, 4,500 are children.
In March 2021, a police exercise was carried out while collecting biometric details of these refugees. They collected documents and credentials, which resulted in over 200 detentions, causing severe hardships on their families, especially the children.
The Hardships Rohingya Families Face
Since the detention started five months ago, an old couple, Mohammad Saleh, 70, and his 68-year-old wife are lying on the tarpaulin sheet inside their makeshift tent in Narwal, outside Jammu. The wait has been long for their lone bread earner daughter who has been detained.
My daughter was the only source of income for both of us, she used to wash utensils and clothes at people's houses nearby to help feed us.Mohammad Saleh
Saleh was looking upset and concerned about the safety of his daughter. "Now people associated with NGOs, and few neighbours, help us in getting ration."
Haleema 55, who married a Kashmiri man a year after her migration in 2012, has been living with her daughter-in-law now whose husband has been detained by the police since March. She is living here to help them out.
With moist eyes, Haleema said, "We have to pay the school fees of our children, rent, electricity bill and feed the family. We have no relatives here, who will help us, how will we survive?"
Mohammad Younis, a 58-year-old Imam (one who leads prayers) by profession, reached Jammu in 2009, after spending a year in Bangladesh.
He talks about the horror and threat they are facing, saying,
'Govt of India Is Trying to Deport Us'
We are not illegal immigrants, we have valid UNHCR cards. Those who have been detained had UNHCR cards as well. It seems that the government of India is trying to deport us. The threat is that the remaining of us have to face the same fate in coming days. We are not being treated as refugees. They are considering us as illegal immigrants.Mohammad Younis
It is disheartening to see the plight of children while trying to make both ends meet. Khalid Hussain, 11, works as a ragpicker to earn 150 rupees a day.
His parents were among those who have been detained by the police.
The detention of my parents forced me to collect plastic bottles and waste. I have five siblings, all of whom are younger than me. If not me, who else will feed them?11 year old Khalid Hussain
Khalid started crying bitterly while talking. "I miss my parents desperately," he added.
The same work is being done by 7-year-old Rizwan who is living with his grandmother, along with his four other siblings.
"My son and daughter-in-law, both have been detained," 65-year-Hasina Begum said. Pointing towards the children sat on the floor, two half-naked, she added, "These are their children, I am their grandmother. I don't know why they have been jailed, I myself am weak after I got operated on in my throat. Somehow I am managing their survival. But if something untoward were to happen to me, where will these children go? Who would care for them?"
Access to Education Limited, Children at Risk of Violence, Abuse
The modern child refugee crisis is the worst since World War-II. It is a humanitarian emergency that demands immediate action. Whether these children are migrants, refugees or internally displaced, they are all children first.
They are living in cramped camps after being violently forced from their homes to escape unimaginable violence. Access to education and other essential services is limited and children are at risk of violence and abuse.
Repeated calls to SSP Jammu went unanswered. We wanted to ask them why these people have been detained and what was their fault.
Why have these children been left alone and who would care for them?
We managed to talk with an office bearer at the UNHCR Delhi office, who, on requesting anonymity, said,
We address these practices through our global strategy which aims to support governments to make the detention of asylum seekers an exceptional, rather than a routine practice.Office bearer at UNHCR Delhi office
Replying to a question, he said, "We are exploring why the Indian authorities are carrying out such exercises."
While refusing to call it a detention, he said, "In such situations, states call it rehabilitation centres."