Sharif Khiam and Abdur Rahman, BenarNews: A Rohingya teenager is stuck in northeastern India because neither Bangladesh nor Myanmar will take her in, in yet another case that highlights the plight of people from the stateless Muslim minority group and barriers they face.
Police in India’s Assam state took the 14-year-old girl, Rozia Ahkter, to the Myanmar border to deport her last Thursday, but Burmese officials refused to let her in as they cited the coronavirus pandemic and the situation inside the country, according to reporting by the state-run Press Trust of India (PTI).
Mohammed Zaber, the girl’s father who lives at a refugee camp in southeastern Bangladesh, said he spoke to his daughter in Assam on Thursday, after New Delhi’s attempt to send her to Myanmar – where the Rohingya are from – failed.
“The officials there [Assam] told my daughter that they would try to send her to us,” Zaber told BenarNews.
“She told me that she was happy that her repatriation in Myanmar stopped.”
Rozia did not want to go back to Myanmar, a police official also confirmed to The Hindustan Times, an Indian daily.
BenarNews contacted Md. Delwar Hossain, the director general of the Myanmar office at Bangladesh’s foreign ministry, about whether Rozia could be united with her family in a refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar – like she reportedly wanted.
Hossain said she could not.
“I think it is lawfully logical that the girl should be sent back to Myanmar. According to law, a person must go back to his or her place of origin,” Hossain told BenarNews.
“Diplomatically, there is no scope to send any Rohingya to Bangladesh from India. This is because they are not our nationals. Any third country can take the girl to their country, but she cannot be sent to Bangladesh.”
He said Bangladesh had done more than it could for the Rohingya, hundreds of thousands of whom are sheltering on Bangladeshi soil after fleeing persecution in Rakhine state and a brutal military offensive there in 2017.
“Now, the other neighboring countries should stand beside them. …The girl can be reunited with her family members in another way – the family members can be taken there [to India],” Hossain said.
Rozia’s father and his family crossed into Bangladesh from Buthidaung town in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state after fleeing from the 2017 offensive.
Zaber said he and his family have been living in one of the 34 refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar district since they crossed the border.
After Rozia went missing in March 2019, the father told BenarNews, he later learned that she had left Bangladesh along with some people who were planning to go to Malaysia.
The Southeast Asian nation, which hosts as many as 150,000 of the estimated 1.8 million to 2 million Rohingya in the world, is a desired destination for Rohingya fleeing from Myanmar.
Over the years, thousands of Rohingya have paid traffickers to transport them to Thailand and Malaysia where they can find work.
Groups of Rohingya have packed onto boats and set sail for Malaysia and other locations in search of asylum, but have often been turned away.
Last June, Malaysian authorities towed a disabled boat ashore and detained 269 Rohingya after dozens jumped overboard and began swimming to Langkawi, an island off the northwest coast of Peninsular Malaysia, a Thai marine police commander told BenarNews.
Last June and September, 400 Rohingya who were on their way to Malaysia were rescued by locals in Indonesia’s Aceh province after their boats were seen adrift on the sea.
Scores of people lost their lives on these passages.
As of March 31 this year, there had been no news for 10 days on the more than 80 Rohingya refugees who were reported stranded in a boat in the Andaman Sea, the Indo-Asian News Service reported.
This group, too, had been making its way to Malaysia.
It is not known whether Rozia, also, was promised safe passage to Malaysia.
“I came to know that she accompanied some other people to go to Malaysia by sea, and got caught in India,” Zaber said, adding that he had no idea where his daughter was until she was found by Indian authorities.
‘Reunite girl with her family’
Assam Police told PTI that Rozia was found unconscious at a house in the state’s Cachar district two years ago.
While Rozia was considered an undocumented immigrant, she was also a minor and, as a result, was sent to a shelter called the Ujjala Ashroy Center, PTI said.
After a year there – during which she learned the local language – she was sent to another home run by the NGO Nibedita Nari Sangstha, in Assam’s Silchar town, the news agency reported.
After Myanmar border authorities turned Rozia away, the police brought her back to the NGO, said its founder, Dibya Roy.
“She is happy to have come back and avoided going to Myanmar,” Roy told BenarNews in an email.
“The best interest of the child will be to reunite her with her parents, which is also what she wants.”
Assam Police declined interview requests from BenarNews.
Nibedita Nari Sangstha will work with United Nations refugee agency UNHCR and India’s External Affairs Ministry to try and facilitate Rozia’s return to Bangladesh, Roy said.
The UNHCR office in Bangladesh did not respond immediately to a BenarNews request for comment.
“I have not seen her for over two years. Sometimes, I talk to her over the telephone. I am worried about what would happen to her,” Zaber, Rozia’s father, said.
“I doggedly visited different government offices to get her back, but in vain.”Envoys visit Bhashan CharSeparately, Rohingya who were relocated to a remote Bay of Bengal island told ambassadors from nine countries and the European Union that they had moved there voluntarily, but must be allowed to visit relatives in the camps they left on the Bangladeshi mainland, refugees told BenarNews by phone.
They also told the envoys who visited the low-lying Bhashan Char Island for the first time on Saturday that the Bangladesh government had provided good accommodation at the new location.
The Bangladesh foreign ministry said the government had relocated 18,334 Rohingya to Bhashan Char since December and planned to move a total of 100,000 refugees there.
Their move came amid widespread international concern about the island’s safety and on-site facilities.
The diplomats, who included ambassadors from countries such as the United States, Japan, Australia and Turkey, talked to 41 men and women, said Nur Hossain, a Rohingya refugee living on the island.
Officials at several embassies that were represented on the trip did not immediately respond to or declined post-visit interview requests from BenarNews.
“At least 13 men and women among us demanded that the government should allow us to visit our relatives living in Cox’s Bazar and go to Noakhali district headquarters for shopping,” Hossain told BenarNews.
Hossain said he told the envoys that the camps in Cox’s Bazar were densely populated, and because they were situated on hills, were vulnerable to landslides and flooding. Violence and abductions were also increasing in the camps, he said.
“But Bhashan Char is free from such incidents; no violence has taken place here. …The accommodations are good and the children can play in the big fields. There are facilities for cultivation,” said Hossain.
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