India deports second Rohingya group to Myanmar, more expulsions likely

GUWAHATI, India (Reuters) - India on Thursday deported a Rohingya Muslim family of five to neighboring Myanmar, the second such group expelled in four months during a crackdown on illegal immigrants.

Members of a Muslim Rohingya family sit as they pose for a photograph with Indian and Myanmar security officials before their deportation on India-Myanmar border at Moreh in the northeastern state of Manipur, India, January 3, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer

India’s Hindu nationalist government regards the Rohingya as illegal aliens and a security risk. It has ordered that tens of thousands of the community, who live in small settlements and slums, be identified and repatriated.

The husband, wife and three children had been arrested and jailed in northeastern Assam state in 2014 for entering India without valid documents, police said.

“The five Rohingya have been handed over to Myanmar officials and they crossed the border,” Bhaskar Jyoti Mahanta, Assam’s additional director general of police, told Reuters.

A Reuters picture from the India-Myanmar border showed the family members posing, with security officials of both countries standing behind them.

Jails in Assam held 20 more Myanmar nationals, all arrested for illegal entry, he added. But it was not immediately clear if all were Rohingya, a largely stateless Muslim minority in Buddhist-majority Myanmar.

“We shall send them back to Myanmar once we get their travel permits from that country,” Mahanta said. “Most of them sneaked into India in search of a livelihood.”

India’s first deportation of seven Rohingya men to Myanmar in October sparked fears of further repatriations among those sheltering in its refugee camps, and concern that those returned faced the risk of abuse at the hands of Myanmar authorities.

The men returned to their villages in a relatively untroubled area of Kyauktaw in the northern Rakhine state. They have been given so-called National Verification Cards, a residency document that conveys a status short of citizenship.

India’s Border Security Force arrested 230 Rohingya last year until end-November, the highest number of detentions in at least four full years, the Ministry of Home Affairs told parliament on Tuesday.

India estimates that 40,000 Rohingya live in the country in camps across the country, including the capital, New Delhi, having arrived over the years after fleeing violence and persecution in Myanmar, which denies them citizenship.

In August, a U.N. report accused the Myanmar military of mass killings and rapes of Rohingya with “genocidal intent” in 2017 in an operation that drove more than 700,000 of them to flee to neighboring Bangladesh, according to U.N. agencies.

Myanmar has denied the charges, saying its military launched a counter-insurgency operation after attacks on security posts by Muslim militants in August last year.

Additional reporting by Altaf Bhat in NEW DELHI and Simon Lewis in YANGON; Writing by Krishna N. Das; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Nick Macfie