In the last week alone, 61 Rohingya Muslims, including 28 minors, fleeing religious persecution in Myanmar have been detained by Indian security forces in the North East. Thirty of them were held by the Assam police on January 21 and at least 31 by the Border Security Force in Tripura the following day.

They had not come to find refuge in India, however. Senior police officials in Assam and Tripura confirmed the Rohingya were only trying to enter Bangladesh. This is of a pattern: the Rohingya are increasingly growing wary of India.

Since May, some 2,000 Rohingya who had taken refuge in India have reportedly left for Bangladesh. “The reverse migration started in late May but it happened in small groups,” said a Bangladeshi official in Dhaka. “Hence, it was not assessed as trouble. Around the same time, Bangladesh was preparing to deport the Rohingya settled in the country in adherence to an agreement with Myanmar.”

The “reverse migration” is not surprising. The Rohingya refugees face open hostility in India, from both the society and the state. In August 2017, Union Minister of State for Home Kiran Rijiju declared, “As far as we are concerned they are all illegal immigrants. They have no basis to live here. Anybody who is illegal migrant will be deported.”

India followed through with its threat on October 4, deporting seven Rohingya refugees to Myanmar despite opposition from human rights organisations. Five more were deported on January 4. None of them were granted citizenship rights in Myanmar even though the Centre had assured the Supreme Court they would.

The migration from India is indeed a result of fear, said a senior intelligence official in Delhi. “Initially there was just apprehension, so smaller groups kept moving out,” he added. “But when the first group of the Rohingya lodged in a detention centre in Assam was deported to Myanmar, the fear intensified.”

The Rohingya are an ethic Muslim minority from Myanmar’s Rakhine region who have faced persecution in their predominantly Buddhist country for four decades. Nearly a million of them have been forced to flee their homes, mostly after the Myanmar military launched a crackdown in Rakhine in 2017 on the pretext of fighting militant groups.

They have settled as refugees, overwhelmingly in Bangladesh but also in Malaysia, Thailand, India, Pakistan and the Gulf countries. India has around 20,000 Rohingya registered as refugees by the United Nations.

‘Reasons are clear’

Since December 1, over 1,300 Rohingya have entered Bangladesh from India, said Abul Kalam, chief of the refugee relief and repatriation office in Dhaka. “They are lodged in transit camps. But transit camps have become overpopulated, so we are chalking out strategies to help them settle in and around the relief camps in Cox’s Bazaar.”

Yunus Armaan, a Rohingya community leader in Cox’s Bazaar town, said over 400 families, several of whom had lived for up to 10 years in Delhi, Jaipur, Jammu and Hyderabad, have arrived in Bangladesh since May.

“The reasons are clear,” he said. “Initially, the apprehension of possible deportation to a land where Rohingya are being killed. Eventually, the news of actual deportation, followed by threats from local groups in Indian cities where they lived.”

The Rohingya fleeing India may not find the situation much better in Bangladesh, however. Dhaka signed a repatriation deal with Myanmar last year and identified over 2,000 Rohingya for deportation in the first phase. They were moved to transit camps along the Bangladesh-Myanmar border on November 15 but so far none of them have consented to crossing over. Forcing them across the border would be a violation of international treaties, said government officials in Dhaka. The Rohingya’s life remains uncertain, in India or Bangladesh.