The Most Unwanted: A gripping account of Rohingya refugees living in India

The Most Unwanted: A gripping account of Rohingya refugees living in India

January 8, 2017 They are State-less, with Myanmar disowning them; they are dying, with 1,00,000 homeless; and they are forgotten, with the Muslim Rohingyas not an attractive cause for the world. Around 14,000 of them are registered refugees in India, eking out a living in slums, and, till lately, free of politics. The Sunday Express tells their stories of flight and hope.

On October 9, 2016, about 400 armed men attacked three Border Guard Posts on Myanmar’s border with Bangladesh in the north-western state of Rakhine, home to 8,00,000 to 1 million Muslims who call themselves Rohingya. Nine policemen were killed; eight of the attackers lost their lives.

Myanmar blamed the Aqa Mul Mujahideen (also known as Harakah Al Yaqin or Organisation of Faith) and launched a massive crackdown on the Rohingyas. Fearing for their safety, thousands of Rohingyas fled across the border to Bangladesh; the International Crisis Group estimated that about 27,000 of them had reached by November. The number could be double now.

In Myanmar, the word Rohingya is taboo. The government terms them “Bengali,” the ethnic description deliberate, meant to drive home the national belief, and Buddhist Myanmar’s official position, that the Muslim minority in Rakhine, different from the country’s Burman Muslims, are recent migrants from Bangladesh, a charge that has been angrily rejected by Bangladesh. The country has also not recognised the Rohingya as among its 135 ethnic groups under its 1982 citizenship Act.

The last big displacement of the Rohingya was in 2012, when a large number of them arrived in India. The UNHCR says approximately 14,000 Rohingya are spread across six locations in India — Jammu, Nuh in Haryana’s Mewat district, Delhi, Hyderabad, Jaipur and Chennai. It has given Refugee Status certificates to approximately 11,000 Rohingyas in India; the remaining 3,000 are “asylum seekers”. But more importantly, the Indian government has given Long Term Visas to 500 Rohingyas, which, an UNHCR official in Delhi says, will help them open bank accounts and secure admission in schools.

But India, wary of China’s influence in Myanmar, has made no official comment about the handling of the Rohingya crisis. Myanmar watchers say the Rohingya issue is a “complex” problem, but given the delicate geo-strategic balance, New Delhi would be “unwise” to make any pro-Rohingya statements, and can only “try and persuade” the Myanmar government to find a political resolution. The silence, however, hides a growing unease in India’s security establishment of the consequences, of the heavy-fisted military response by Myanmar, for the entire region.– Nirupama Subramanian 



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