NEW DELHI • Indian police yesterday arrested 31 Rohingya Muslims stranded on the border after they were denied entry into Bangladesh and border officials failed to agree on what to do with members of the community fleeing a crackdown in India.
India's Hindu nationalist government regards the Rohingya as illegal aliens and a security risk. It has ordered that tens of thousands of them living in scattered settlements and slums around the country be identified and repatriated.
The stranded Rohingya, including women and children, had been stuck in no-man's land on Bangladesh's border with India since last Friday. Two rounds of talks between border officials failed to find a solution.
"We have arrested them under the Foreigners Act on charges of entering India without valid travel documents," said sub-divisional police officer Ajay Kumar Das, a police official in the north-east state of Tripura that borders Bangladesh.
Hundreds of thousands of members of mostly Buddhist Myanmar's Rohingya community have left their homes in Myanmar's Rakhine State over the decades, most fleeing military crackdowns and discrimination.
Many have sought shelter in Bangladesh - where nearly one million live - but others have ended up in India, South-east Asia and beyond.
The 31 had been living in Kashmir and some of them carried identity cards issued by the United Nations refugee agency, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
The UNHCR has issued identity cards to about 16,500 Rohingya in India that it says can help "prevent harassment, arbitrary arrests, detention and deportation".
India does not recognise the cards. Its deportation of seven Rohingya men to Myanmar in October raised fears in the community of a wider crackdown and prompted hundreds of Rohingya families to leave India for Bangladesh.
Indian police arrested another group of 30 Rohingya on Monday in the north-eastern state of Assam, where they had moved after living for six years in Jammu and Kashmir, India's only Muslim-majority state.
Members of the group said they were looking for work after losing their jobs in Kashmir, police said.
"The arrests were made during a routine check by police and, after interrogation, we found they are all from Myanmar," said police official Imon Saikia in the city of Karimganj, where the group was arrested.