Five minor Rohingya girls continue to be traceless five months after they went missing from a government-run observation home in Guwahati.
Sometime in mid-June, attendants at the State Home For Women in Jalukbari on the western fringe of the city woke up in the morning to find five minor Rohingya girls missing from the centre.
Subsequently, a meeting hurriedly convened by concerned government officials decided to lodge a First Information Report (FIR) before the police.
“A case has been registered and an investigation is on,” said Nabaneet Mahanta, deputy commissioner of police in Guwahati-West.
How the Girls Ended Up in the Government Home
The girls were arrested around two years ago from Silchar and Hailakandi in southern Assam after they crossed the border with Bangladesh. They were related to each other and awaiting deportation to Myanmar.
As they were minors at the time of arrest, they were kept at the observation home in Guwahati.
The girls escaped with their families from Myanmar’s Rakhine State following the ‘clearance operations’ launched by the Tatmadaw in the latter half of 2017 against Rohingya residents. The trigger for the brutal clampdown was the attack by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) on police and military establishments in the region, resulting in the death of several personnel from the armed forces.
Officials Claim the Girls Weren't Happy
There have been many instances of Rohingya refugees trying to escape from camps and reach other countries. Many among them have been arrested in Assam and Tripura on several occasions earlier after crossing over from Bangladesh illicitly.
An official associated with the observation home in Guwahati said, “From the very beginning, the girls were never comfortable at the observation home and wanted to return to Myanmar. They said they crossed over to Bangladesh from Myanmar.”
Girls Are Likely to Be in India
It's also unlikely that the girls were trafficked. Assam has many human trafficking hotspots – doing so from a state-run observation home is far too risky for traffickers.
So, where did they go?
The observation home official added that the girls may have planned their escape over several months after possibly getting in touch with their relatives in other parts of the country.
Rohingya refugees have moved to many states and cities across the country including New Delhi, Hyderabad and Jammu. A section of government officials claims that many refugees might have settled down with fake documents procured from multiple sources.
On 1 October, a report in The Assam Tribune said that a voice call received by an official at the observation home in Guwahati from an “anonymous caller” claimed that the girls have returned to Myanmar.
But quoting an official on condition of anonymity, the report further said that they escaped from the observation home when there was still a restriction on the inter-district movement due to the pandemic and under such circumstances, it was highly unlikely that they had crossed the international border.
Going Back to Myanmar Is Like Signing Their Own Death Warrant
For the Rohingya, while going back to Myanmar is like signing their own death warrant, crossing over to Bangladesh isn't a comfortable option either.
Myanmar has been reluctant to take back the Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh despite global pressure and condemnation. In 2019, the US imposed sanctions on Myanmar’s top army generals, which was followed some months later by the Gambia’s allegation against the country at the International Court of Justice for genocide.
Nor is Bangladesh keen to accept the Rohingya refugees apprehended in India, although there were instances when refugees had been pushed back to Bangladesh by the Border Security Force (BSF) after being apprehended at the border. And, on some occasions, they have been repatriated to Myanmar after being freed from jail.
Thus, from what can be gathered from officials, there were indications that the girls wanted to be with their families. They were apprehended while crossing the border as they escaped Myanmar, while their relatives managed to reach safer destinations in India.
(Rajeev Bhattacharyya is a senior journalist in Guwahati. Views expressed are personal. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)