Ever since violence against the minority Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar resurfaced, Dil Mohammad has been living in tension silently as he desperately tries to reach his brother’s phone back home.
“I am trying my brother’s number since August 25. But everytime I get a message that the number is switched off,” says Mohammad sitting in a hutment in south Delhi’s Shram Vihar area, where over 75 families of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar have taken refuge for the last five years.
“I don’t know if he is alive or dead,” Mohammad said in a choked voice. The last time he had spoken to his brother, about two weeks ago, he was told that “military personnel had surrounded the village and were indulging in mass killings”.
Mohammad’s desperation is the story of many who shared their experience with IANS during a visit to the colony of refugees which does not have even the basic facilities required for human existence.
It’s a choice between a rock and a hard place for them. But the residents of this colony say they are indebted to India for the refuge given to them. They said they would like to return to their homeland once the situation becomes normal and they are assured of their rights.
Shram Vihar is a small shanty town in the southeastern part of Delhi, where Mohammad, and several others like him live in hutments. The Indian Tri-colour is still seen fluttering on several hutments put up by the Rohingyas, remnants of the celebrations of Indian Independence Day on August 15.
All the refugees residing here have proper documents and identity cards given by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Sixty seven-year-old Mohammad says they cannot repay India for whatever the country had done for them. “We only want justice from the world. We are also human beings. We want our identity back,” he said adding that if justice is done to them “we will go back to our motherland where our ancestors have been living for the last two centuries.”
Mohammad’s remarks came in the wake of the ongoing hearing in the Supreme Court against the deportation of the Rohingya Muslims to Myanmar on several grounds, including the alleged violation of international human rights conventions in Myanmar.
The Court had on Monday asked the Centre for a detailed reply on why it planned to deport thousands of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar.
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) had on August 8 issued an Advisory titled ‘Identification of illegal migrants and monitoring thereof’, which emphasises the detection and deportation of illegal migrants from the Rakhine State.
The Rohingyas are a Bengali-speaking Muslim ethnic minority of Myanmar who live in the western state of Rakhine. They do not find mention in that country’s official listing of 135 ethnic communities and are thus not recognised as citizens by Myanmar.
Shahana Akhtar, 30, is busy in her kitchen trying to find out what to cook for her husband Mohammad Rafique who suffered partial paralysis in the face a few days ago. “For the last three days, he has been unable to go for work. And now there is nothing left to cook,” she said. Akhtar has two children.
Recalling her days in her country before arriving in India, she said: “There we had our own land. We used to grow crops and feed our family. But now the entire world has changed for us.
Akhtar had arrived in India in 2012 and has been living in the same refugee camp since then.
Mohammad Reyaz, in his late 20s, said that he felt bad when he heard some people saying that Rohingyas would be deported to Myanmar as they were a security threat to the country.
“Please ask our neighbours here. Have we ever posed any threat to any of the people here?” he asks. “We are not terrorists, but refugees who are fighting for their identity,” he added.
Citing the harassment by Myanmar authorities, Reyaz said, “All our rights were snatched by the government. Even the marriages in our communities were banned,” adding that they were left with no choice: “Either run away or get killed.”
Asked about what he wanted the Indian government to do, he said: “We want to urge the Indian government not to deport us to Myanmar as the conditions there are very volatile.”
He said everyday they hear news of Rohingyas getting killed there. “Thousands of houses have been burnt. Many people are fleeing the country just to find a shelter,” he added.
On Tuesday, Minister of Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju made it clear that Rohingya Muslims who had entered India to escape violence in their country have to go back.
Rijiju declared: “They (Rohingyas) are illegal immigrants in India.”
Rijiju said they would be deported to Myanmar but no force would be used. “We can’t throw them out just like that. We can’t dump them in the Bay of Bengal,” he said.
For Mohammad, Akhtar and Reyaz — and thousands like them and their families — that is another threat hanging over their desolate existence.