A refugee’s life is always between the frying pan and the fire

A refugee’s life is always between the frying pan and the fire

September 15, 2014: India, where an estimated 200,000 refugees live, is not an Elysian Garden for people escaping intolerable conditions in their home countries. Their escape to India just puts them on a precipice between, proverbial, frying pan and fire.
Rohingyas from Myanmar and Afghans are the two largest refugee groups in India, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
The UN refugee agency assists around 24, 000 refugees across India, of which 11,500 are Afghans, 9,000 Rohingyas and 700 Somalians. It also provides support to less than 6,000 asylum-seekers. The refugees or asylum seekers have two options of reaching India overstaying their short visit visas or sneaking in through porous borders.

Six months ago at midnight, Abdullah, a Rohingya Muslim from Maungdaw in Rakhine, hastily stuffed his duffel bag with clothes and hopped into a rickety boat to cross the Naf river for Bangladesh. In next two hours, he was among the unfamiliar faces at Teknaf in Bangladesh, leaving behind his old parents, and friends due to “persecution perpetuated by Myanmar military.” Bangladesh was just a transit point as he wanted to be in India. To familiarise himself with the route to India, he slogged for a Bangladesh border contingent as a porter. There he got in touch with a people smuggler who charged him Rs 5,000 for his flight to India. Money greased the palms on both sides of the Indo­Bangaldesh border and the crossing, what was thought to be a perilous journey, proved to be a cinch.

According to one estimate, India provides shelter to over 10,0000 Rohingyas. Clad in a lungi and a sagging vest, Abdullah squints in the scalding heat of Delhi and recounts his escape, “I didn’t know how long it would take to reach Teknaf. But, I reluctantly left and got into a beat-up boat which danced on the currents. It was scary as I heard incidents of refugees being drowned while crossing the river.” Abdullah, a new arrival in Delhi, lives at Madanpur Khadar.

Sneaking through Indo­Bangladesh and Bangladesh­Myanmar borders has become far easier for Rohigyas for two reasons: porous borders and posse of people­smuggling agents who are involved in human­trafficking for prostitution and bonded­labour purposes. There are few pockets in India where modern­day slavery is the order of the day, says a highly­placed source in the UN agency.
When death and starvation gnaw at somebody gullibility is the instant product. “Human trafficking agents go to Bangladesh to ensnare most credulous people by painting a rosy picture of India a downright lie,” the source says reproachfully. Hameed proudly reveals his cousin works as a middleman to help his compatriots. “He knows the route and ensures safety from Maundaw to Madanpur Khadar for as little as Rs 5,000­-7,000, depending on the condition of families in distress,” Hameed says.

Rohingyas, who are described as the most persecuted refugees in the world, usually opt for the Naf route to flee to Bangladesh. Sayyed (name changed on request), who is in the know of the escape route, says, “Along the river, there are points where it hardly takes five minutes to cross, but barbed wires and high fences make the crossing impossible. However, loose wires and crumbling fences at some places have prised open the opportunity. The easiest part of the journey is to wake up Myanmar border soldiers at night and say, ‘Hey, we are leaving our country.’ They are happy to see us off and gloat over our situation,” he says sardonically.



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