Rohingya migrants
Rohingya migrants Reuters

The historic conflict between the Indian state of West Bengal and the nation of Bangladesh has enacted a new chapter over concerns that many Rohingya Muslims have been illegally crossing into West Bengal from Bangladesh.

Officials with the Indian Border Security Force’s South Bengal Frontier (BSF) said they have arrested more than one hundred illegal Rohingya immigrants this year, and most of them likely came from Myanmar, where they have faced a brutal campaign of repression from the authorities.

“We increased our vigil on immigrants from Myanmar since the end of last year after some Rohingya Muslims were arrested… last November,” Santosh Mehra, the BSF’s inspector general said, according to Hindustan Times.

“It was tough to interact with them as they neither speak nor understand Hindi, Bengali or English.”

Rohingya also do not speak Urdu or any other Indian language. The Rohingya language is related to the Chittagonian tongue, a dialect related to Bengali that is spoken in southeastern Bangladesh, but differs from standard Bengali.

“As we don't know their [Rohingya] language, we have to get experts from universities or other agencies to act as interpreters,” Mehra told the Times of India.

The stream of illegal Rohingya immigrants has dramatically increased this year. Mehra added that in 2011 only two Myanmar Rohingya nationals were arrested in West Bengal in 2011, and just six last year.

A senior BSF official also told the Hindustan Times that the Bangladesh government has taken the initiative to expel Rohingya migrants back to Myanmar, where the overwhelmingly Buddhist majority does not want them. Myanmar authorities regard them as “illegal immigrants” from Bangladesh, while Dhaka rejects them as undocumented foreigners.

Mehra cited this catch-22 scenario by declaring that “we contact the Bangladesh High Commission [in India] after Bangladeshi migrants are held. [But] we cannot contact anyone after Rohingyas are held since no country recognizes them.”

He told the Times of India that “unlike illegal migrants from Bangladesh, it is difficult to send them back across the border … There are certain United Nations guidelines that have to be followed.”

Mehta also rejects concerns by some Indian intelligence officers that the Rohingya migrants are linked to terrorist groups, perhaps supported by entities in Bangladesh itself of even in Pakistan.

Intelligence agencies in New Delhi believe that some Rohingyas have received arms training from Islamic militant groups including the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), a Pakistani-based terror outfit, in the Chittagong Hills district of Bangladesh.

Indian officials suspect that LeT -- as well as militant organizations like Jamaat-ud-Dawah and Jaish-e-Mohammad -- are using the plight of the unwanted Rohingya Muslims migrants to stir up trouble between Bangladesh and both of its neighbors,m Myanmar and India.

An Indian intelligence told Times of India that Bangladesh has assured India that it will look into the matter of training camps in the Chittagong.

“We have specific information that LeT and Jamaat-ud-Dawah created an outfit known as Difa-e-Musalman Arakan [Burma],” he said. “This outfit was assigned to tie-up with Islamic organizations in Myanmar and Bangladesh. There are several other terror groups that are involved with the Rohingyas. While the Rohingyas are receiving funds from Saudi Arabia, weapons are apparently being sourced from Thailand.”

The Times reported that over the past year-and-a-half some 10,000 Rohingya Muslims have crossed into India, residing in West Bengal, but also in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Three-thousand of them alone are living in the capital city of New Delhi. They exist in a kind of limbo, with no rights of residency and little hope of ever attaining citizenship.

But some Indians have taken up their cause.

Nawab Zafar Jung, a former vice-chancellor of Jamia Milia Islamia University, in New Delhi, in tandem with leftist student unions at Jawharlal Nehru University (JNU), are demanding the government grant the Rohingya Muslims official refugee status.