Rohingyas have been deemed to be a national security threat and their illegal immigration into India is cause for immense concern and yet, they appear to have formed a football team of their own and have participated in local football tournaments. It appears that football is the medium through which the illegal immigrants are being normalised in the country.
Rohingya FC the team is called and the team has participated in numerous football tournaments in the past. No attempt is made to even hide the fact that football is used to whitewash their illegal immigration into India. Ali Johar, a Rohingya ‘youth leader’ from Delhi, said, “Rohingya refugees are often seen through a particular ideological lens. There is a lot of misinformation and stereotypes about our community. Football has given us positive exposure and enabled us to tell the world that we are just like them. We are normal human beings. We have also got the chance to make many new Indian friends. Football has paved the way for constructive change, but sustaining the momentum is proving to be a challenge.”
In 2018, Rohingyas also participated in a football tournament organised by the United Nations High Commissioner for refugees (UNHCR). Among the 16 teams participating in the tournament organised at the Quli Qutub Shah Stadium in Ghansi Bazar, Hyderabad, three teams were from the Rohingya camps from Jalpally, Kishanbagh and Balapur refugee camps. “We are not playing for the sake of it. We want Rohingyas to be seen in a good light,” said Abdullah, a 24-year old player of the Rohingya Football Club (Balapur).
The three teams are called Rohingya Football Academy, Rohingya Football Club Kishanbagh and Rohingya Football Club Hyderabad. General Manager of Save the Children, one of the organisers of the event, said, “The objective is to increase visibility for refugees here. When we say refugees, we are mainly talking about Rohingya refugees, since in this region they constitute the majority of all refugees. Several of their children are unable to complete their education because of Aadhaar mandates.”
Rohingya FC came up sometime in Balapur, Hyderabad in 2016. Two years later, president of the Telangana Football Association (TFA) even said that the Rohingyas were welcome to seek their help in improving their game. “As long as they are here, they are welcome to play (with us). They can also come and practise with our players. We’ll also look into whether a coach can be appointed for them,” Mohammed Ali Zafar said.
Some of these players did not move from Myanmar to India but from Bangladesh, which makes them economic migrants, and they have no hesitation themselves in admitting that they moved from Bangladesh. “We left home in a boat and managed to reach Bangladesh after much difficulty. People known to us were living in India and we decided to come here. My parents, however, were too grief-stricken to undertake another journey. They decided to stay put in Bangladesh itself,” one of them said.
Several ‘human rights organisation’ have also come up to support the Rohingyas in India. One of them is the Rohingya Human Rights Initiative (ROHRIngya). It describes itself as “a local non-governmental, non-profit organization formed by young Rohingya activists in New Delhi, India.” It states, “We have committed to work with vision, passion, solidarity, hope, unity and perseverance. Our mission is to selflessly promote Human Rights of all human beings, especially people from Rohingya community and other disadvantaged minorities residing in India, Bangladesh and Myanmar.”
They further claim that they “are implementing all our projects, advocacy activities and interpretation services in accordance with the rules of law of India”. It does appear that the Rohingyas have been participating in football matches even earlier than 2016. There is at least one report from 2014 that speaks of a football match involving Rohingyas. Such teams have also come up in Delhi. One Indian Express report from 2017 says that Rohingyas used to gather under a tent in Shaheen Bagh for ‘football nights’.
Meanwhile, the Indian government has continued to maintain a strong stance against Rohingyas. Not too long ago, it was reported that 1300 Rohingyas had fled to Bangladesh from India fearing deportation to Myanmar. Rohingyas have also been regularly apprehended by local law enforcement. Union Ministers have also said that they pose a security threat to the country.
In October last year, Seven Rohingya Muslims who were lodged in jail since 2012 for illegally entering India were sent to Myanmar border for deportation. The government has also decided to deport 23 more Rohingyas, who have been staying at various detention camps in Assam after they were caught staying illegally in the state. Thus, at a time when the government has made its stance on Rohingyas clear, that illegal immigrants posing a serious threat to the country are being normalised through football is indeed a cause for grave concern.