The deportation of seven refugees has shaken the Rohingya community in India. Many of them have no one left in Myanmar and will be sent back to face the dangers of persecution alone.
When Dil Mohammed first heard the news of seven Rohingya refugees being deported back from India to Myanmar, last month, the 62-year-old father of six wondered why those men would want to go back to the country they had escaped persecution from in the first place. Like him, they left behind everything they owned and risked their lives in the process.
The answer evaded not only Mohammed but also 150 other Rohingya refugees families that have settled in two squalid makeshift camps at Shaheen Bagh and Khader, barely a kilometre away from each other, in Kalindi Kunj area that lies on the peripheries of the capital of India, New Delhi.
On 4th October, Indian authorities handed over seven Rohingya refugees to Myanmar officials at the border post shared between the two countries in the northeastern state of Manipur.
Before being deported, all seven Rohingya refugees had been in detention since 2012 in Silchar central jail in the neighbouring state of Assam.
The seven deported Rohingya refugees are Mohammad Jalal, Mokbul Khan, Jalal Uddin, Mohammad Younis, Sabbir Ahamed, Rahim Uddin and Mohammad Salam.
Earlier that day, the country's apex court refused to hear a plea filed by advocates Prashant Bhushan and Cheryl Dsouza seeking to halt the deportations after being convinced by the government of India that all seven Rohingya refugees had been accepted by the Myanmar government as citizens, and had agreed to take them back.
The government also claimed that all seven men wilfully wanted to return to their country.
Hence, the chief justice of the Supreme Court found no reason to intervene in the government's decision.
"The government swore on an affidavit that these men want to be repatriated, which we disputed but we never got a chance to ask them (Rohingyas) that question," advocate Dsouza told TRT World.
Even though India has been on the receiving end of widespread international criticism for pushing out Rohingya Muslims in the face of persecution, the country plans to deport more Rohingya held up in similar detention centres in Assam and other parts of the country in the coming months.
Facing discrimination and violence in Myanmar, minority Rohingya Muslims have for decades fled Myanmar to neighbouring Bangladesh and other countries, including India.
The flow of migration dramatically increased after Myanmar launched a brutal military campaign in the Rakhine state in 2012 under the guise of fighting "Islamist terror outfits."
The recent developments in India have led to anxiety, despondency, and fear of yet another wave of displacement among the estimated 40,000 Rohingya Muslims scattered in different states across India, 18,000 of whom have been registered with UNHCR India as refugees.
"If the government in India wants to throw us out what can we do about it?" asks 58-year-old Mohammad Qasim, who lives in one of the huts made up of bare tin sheets and bamboo stick in the Khadar camp with his wife and five children.
"We can't ask questions here. We have to accept it as our fate. We are the people of nowhere now," he continues.
Unlike most Rohingya refugees living in the area, Mohammad, a native of Maungdow in Rakhine province of Myanmar, says he entered India almost two decades ago along with his wife Noor Asha to start a new life away from persecution.
All six of his children, three daughters and three sons, were all born in India.
"We came here (India) in 1998 because we weren't safe in Myanmar. Rohingyas have been facing violence in Myanmar since 1947. It has just increased now, and that's how the world has noticed us," he said.
Although away from the violence directed at Rohingyas in Myanmar, life hasn't been easy for Mohammed and his family since their arrival in India after making the perilous journey through Bangladesh.
For many years, Mohammad, one of the community heads of the camp, had lived in the state of Uttar Pradesh before settling in Shaheen Bagh camp, which hosts 89 other families.
He says in 2006, he along with three other Rohingya refugees had been arrested by police in Saharanpur and kept in detention for three months.
"The police picked us up when we were heading for work. At that time we had no documents," he added.
It was only in 2010 that Mohammad applied for a refugee card with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees which provides them with a certain degree of legal protection.
According to the UNHCR, there are other Rohingya refugees in India held in detention camps.
"We advocate for the release of Rohingyas in detention and for UNHCR/partner’s access to them to assess their need for international protection," Elsa Sherin Mathew, senior information officer with UNHCR India told TRT World.
Commenting on the recent deportation of the seven Rohingya refugees she added, "UNHCR continues to seek clarification from the authorities on the circumstances under which these individuals were returned to Myanmar. UNHCR requests the Government of India’s commitment to the principle of non-refoulement and ensure that all asylum seekers and refugees continue to be treated in accordance with international laws and standards."
Qasim says that over the last few months police officials have started visiting the camp more frequently than they ever have before.
They have also asked them to fill personal data forms, as well as noted down their biometric details.
"Everyday, the police visits a couple of families and makes them answer the questions on the form. They also take their fingerprints on a machine," said Qasim, who works as a daily wager.
Noorullah, 37, arrived from Myanmar at the camp in 2017. A tailor by profession, he lives with his three young children in a hut adjacent to Qasim and says there is no way he would want to return to Myanmar.
"I have no family left there. All of them are either in Bangladesh or in India," he said.
In October the BJP government in the centre directed all states to collect information on Rohingyas living in India. This wasn't the first time such an order had been given.
The government claims the move was to address the issue on a diplomatic level with Myanmar's government.
Since rising to power, the Narendra Modi-led BJP government has had the Rohingya refugees issue firmly in its crosshairs.
One of its early election promises, in a bid, appease it's hardline Hindu electorate, was to come down hard on what it called "illegal immigrants" in India. And in the run-up to the next general election in the country next year, the rhetoric has been dialled up and has become more vicious.
Last month while speaking to the media, India's home minister Rajnath Singh said all Rohingya Muslims living in India are illegal immigrants.
"Such illegal migrations pose serious challenges and have security implications since some of the migrants have been found to have indulged in illegal activities and are vulnerable to radicalisation," the minister said pointing to various Indian intelligence reports that have painted Rohingyas as cannon fodder for terror outfits based in Pakistan, or linked to Daesh.
India is one of the few democratic countries in the world that has not signed the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol that governs how nations should treat refugees. The country also doesn't have a uniform legal framework in place to address the right of refugees.
However, India is home to one of the biggest refugee populations in South Asia. It organises asylum seekers by their country of origin and politicises the issues accordingly.
While on the one hand, India provides certain rights to Tibetan, Afghan, and Sri-Lankan Tamil refugees, it has not taken the same route for Rohingyas.
After taking a bath under a handpump, the only source of water, installed in at the Shaheen Bagh camp, Noor-ul-Islam puts on his white school uniform.
The 14-year-old son of a Rohingya refugee recently enrolled in a nearby government school with the help of a local NGO.
Like many other young children in the camp, Noor has lived in similar camps around India his entire life. For him, his new school and friends are his world and having to leave that behind will not be a "good feeling."
While it's clear that the Indian government will not hold back from deporting more Rohingya refugees for electoral gain in the upcoming elections, advocate Dsouza says, they will file affidavits in the court opposing the policy.