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Tragic fate follows Rohingya in India

NEW DELHI, India

Even as recent international attention has rekindled hope among displaced Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar, hundreds of them living in India fear another displacement as the fallout of recently enacted controversial citizenship law.

At a Rohingya refugee camp located in South Delhi’s Kalindi Kunj locality, children playing cricket with a broken piece of wood, smoke coming out of the shabby shanties loosely pulled together with discarded material, and a constant stink from an open drain tells their wretched story.

The 60 families living in the camp comprising 300 people and 180 children, had arrived in India in 2012. But even eight years later, they are still struggling to find a stable life and a regular source of income.

The recent proceedings at the Hague-based International Court of Justice (ICJ) have enthused many refugees, which is scheduled to deliver preliminary order on Thursday. But the countrywide protests in India against the new citizenship law has sent a scare in the camp.

The law, which effectively amended India’s Citizenship Act, 1955, grants citizenship rights to non-Muslim immigrants of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh only.

With police officers, intelligence sleuths and some unknown persons making rounds of their camp regularly to keep close tabs on them, residents told  that they had been living in fear and apprehend another displacement.

Situation has changed

“We do not know what is going on. But something is not going right. India has given us refuge and a safe life. We are thankful for that. We had been living peacefully, though with limited means till 2018. But the situation changed in 2018. The last few months have been scary. Many officials and policemen visit the camp, every day gives us sleepless nights,” said Usman Ali (name changed), a 27-year-old Rohingya refugee from the camp.

“Police personnel have strictly advised us not to go near any of the anti-citizenship law protest sites. We follow their orders. We have been asked to not make any comments on the law. Most of us have been waiting for all this to get over soon so we can continue with our daily lives without fear,” adds Ali.

Some members of the community have lost jobs due to the ongoing controversy around the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).

“My employer said since I am a refugee and do not hold any legal documents, he can get into trouble for hiring me. He terminated me after working for six long years,” said Mirina Begum, a widow living with her four children. She was earning $100 a month as a domestic helper until November last year.

Rohingya, as described by the United Nations, are most discriminated against people in the world, without recognition of the most basic rights. Millions of Rohingya hailing from the western Rakhine state of Myanmar had to leave their country due to denial of citizenship, based on ethnic cleansing, and communal violence, which included forced labor, rapes, and confiscation of land.

Hope and despair

They now live in wretched conditions in neighboring countries with over 9,00,000 living in Cox’s Bazaar in Bangladesh and another 1,00,000 across different countries in South East Asia.

As per UNHCR data, around 40,000 Rohingya have taken refuge in India over the past decade. While UNHCR has provided refugees card to half the refugees from Myanmar, India does not recognize their cards, since it is not a signatory to the UN Convention on Refugees.

“While we do not have legal access to any basic facilities in India, but we have lived safely here. Our lives were not threatened and our women remained safe. This situation was far better than living in Myanmar. We prefer to die than be deported to Myanmar. The horrible news of torture has been giving us goosebumps all these years,” says Usman (name changed), a resident of the camp.

Indian security agencies on several occasions have claimed that some Rohingya are sympathizing with extremist ideologies in Jammu, Delhi, Hyderabad, and Mewat regions and could be potential threats to internal security. But have not been able to prove their claims.

The Citizenship Amendment Act has resulted in outcries in India, as opposition parties and civil society groups are describing it as a discriminatory law. In the month-long protests, 31 people have died across the country in 14 states, while more than 5,000 people have been detained.

As the Rohingya live in fear and unsure of their future, surviving on meager means, tragic news from home and hope from international organizations like the ICJ brings both despair and confidence that the world may find a safer home for their children to see a brighter future.

Persecuted community

Rohingya, as described by the UN, are one of the most persecuted communities in the world, has been facing systematic state persecution in the northern Rakhine state of Myanmar since early 1970s.

According to Amnesty International, more than 750,000 Rohingya refugees, mostly women and children, have fled Myanmar and crossed into Bangladesh after Myanmar forces launched a crackdown on the minority Muslim community in August 2017, pushing the number of persecuted people in Bangladesh above 1.2 million.

Since Aug. 25, 2017, nearly 24,000 Rohingya Muslims have been killed by Myanmar’s state forces, according to a report by the Ontario International Development Agency (OIDA).

More than 34,000 Rohingya were also thrown into fires, while over 114,000 others were beaten, said the OIDA report, titled “Forced Migration of Rohingya: The Untold Experience”.

Some 18,000 Rohingya women and girls were raped by Myanmar’s army and police and over 115,000 Rohingya homes were burned down and 113,000 others vandalized, it added.

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