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Burmese Muslim refugees in Delhi, search for haven in J&K

20,000-25,000 Rohingyas are living in sub-human conditions across the country.

NAVTAN KUMAR  New Delhi | 2nd Nov 2013

Rohingya refugees in Delhiā€™s Kalindi Kunj | Photo: sanjay vishwakarma

housands of Rohingya Muslims have taken refuge in India after fleeing deadly religious persecution and massacre in Burma, which has wiped out village after village in these last few years. Though the exact number of these "infiltrators" is not known, it is estimated to be in the range of 20,000-25,000. The Rohingyas have spread into places like Delhi, Jammu, Noida, Mewat (Haryana), Saharanpur, Muzaffarnagar, Aligarh, Hyderabad and Mumbai. In Delhi, they live in the slums of Kalindi Kunj, Khajuri, Nizamuddin and in neighbouring Noida. Their largest settlement is in Jammu, where around 2,300 Rohingyas live in subhuman conditions in makeshift tents. The Centre, which has finally woken up to the plight of these people, has started giving visas and refugee cards to them.

According to Mohd Haroon, who sneaked into Indian territory illegally through the India-Bangladesh border, at least five "infiltrators" living in Kalindi Kunj have got visas that are valid until 2016, while another 100 have got refugee cards. "We are being called by the UN Refugee Agency in phases, for verification and processing of our documents," he said.

Haroon, an erstwhile resident of Mangdu Boosidang area of Burma, said he had no choice but to flee the country because of the communal violence there. He, his wife and five children came to India two years ago. Haroon is coordinating with different social organisations to ensure that Rohingyas get refugee status from the Indian government.

Haroon told The Sunday Guardian team, which visited the Kalindi Kunj slum, "We would have been killed in Burma, therefore, we decided to come to India. We first sneaked into Bangladesh, where we spent three-four months, after which we entered India, with the help of a dalal (tout)." "Now that the process of giving visas and refugee cards has begun, we hope Rohingyas will soon start getting assistance in the form of ration and health facilities provided by the United Nations," he said.

Another refugee, Omar Hamza, who teaches children at the Kalindi Kunj shelter, which houses 206 people, said, "Living conditions here are bad. There are no proper toilets or drinking water facilities. We started constructing a toilet following an assurance from some organisations, but there was controversy and the police arrested one of us. As we have started getting refugee cards, we hope the situation will improve now. The government is sympathetic to us. We do not want to return to Burma as we might get killed there."

Narrating her tale, an 18-year-old Rohingya, Tasleema said, "While sneaking into India, I got separated from my family (touts generally arrange the entry of the infiltrators in parts), who got stuck in Bangladesh. I was then taken to Jammu, where I was sold to someone. However, I managed to speak to Zafar, my cousin, who lives in Delhi, who rescued me and brought me here."

In Kalindi Kunj, the Rohingyas have earmarked a small place where they can offer namaaz. One of them has opened a shop inside the slum, where he sells stuff for daily use such as biscuits, snacks, chocolates and bread. Most of them work as daily wage labourers.

The issue of giving refugee status to Rohingyas has been pending for some time. In May last year, Rohingyas from all over the country demonstrated outside the UN Refugee Agency's office at Vasant Vihar, in New Delhi. They got support from a few local groups as well as Maulana Mahmood Madani's Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind. "After the demonstration, many families started living around the Shahi Masjid area in Vasant Vihar, Gori Masjid near Dhaula Kuan and also near the UN Refugee Agency office. However, as locals objected to their presence, they migrated to other areas. Most of them have migrated to Jammu now," said Ghayyur Ahmad Qasmi, a Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind functionary, who has been coordinating with the authorities on the Rohingyas.Image 2nd

Mahmood Madani, who had met the then Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram requesting him to grant Rohingyas refugee status, said he would like to ensure that these people get UN relief materials.

The IGP of Jammu region, Rajesh Kumar Yadav told this newspaper that the Rohingyas are living in the slums of Rajeev Nagar and Qasim Nagar, along the railway tracks at Brahmi Brahamana and Trikuta Nagar. According to the police, the Rohingyas settled in Jammu in large numbers because they were convinced by some people that they would thus be able to cross the International Border and enter Pakistan, where they would have a better life.

A police officer said that many of them were arrested while trying to cross into Pakistan. "Most of them are doing petty jobs as labourers while their womenfolk and children are living in slums. The J&K government is not providing them with any relief or assistance, though they are getting some assistance from some charitable organisations," said the officer.

The J&K Sakhawat Centre has recently provided them with medicines and blankets and other essential commodities. One of the volunteers of the organisation told this newspaper that they did not have access to hospitals and schools.

Rajesh Kumar Yadav said, "They are being monitored closely, but they are not indulging in any criminal activities."

With inputs from Noor-ul-Qamrain in Srinagar

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