People With No Country?
Around 2000 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, from 623 families from the northern Rakhine state in Myanmar have been in India for the past two years, forced to wander from one place to another in search of shelter and survival. They had been in Delhi since 9 April, to take up the matter of their refugee status with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
JNUSU took up the matter of their shelter, relief, and right to humanitarian treatment as refugees. After several relocations, these refugees were staying on the open grounds of a mosque in Sultangarhi near Vasant Kunj, where they faced eviction by police as well as communal threats. In their camp, there was neither proper shelter, nor water, sanitation or medical facilities. Children were severely malnourished, and two women delivered babies under the open sky, open to sun and rain.
JNUSU and JNU students had been arranging drinking water, medical camps, and other relief measures, and on 10 May had held a demonstration along with the Myanmarese refugees at the UNHCR office. The UNHCR, following a dialogue with the JNU Students’ Union on 10 May, gave a date of 15 May for consideration of their petition. But the Delhi Police kept trying to evict them from Delhi even before they could get a hearing at the UNHCR.
Nasiruddin, an Myanmarese Rohingya asylum-seeker: “We along with our children and women have been spending the nights out in the open with no roofs over our heads. The situation got worse in the wake of a heavy downpour. Without any medical assistance, two women delivered babies. A medical team visited the camp on Sunday morning, which was a big relief for all of us.”
Recounting his days in Myanmar, Nasiruddin said: “We are from the Arakan region located close to the Myanmar-Bangladesh border. We are being persecuted by the Myanmarese Government, which has never treated us as citizens. We cannot travel from one town to the other without permission. In Myanmar, we are considered descendents of Indians who were taken there as bonded labourers by the British in the early 19th Century. Instead of citizenship, they have provided us ‘State guest’ cards. Over the years, we have been subjected to unnecessary restrictions, physical and mental torture, because of which lakhs of Rohingya Muslims have been forced to migrate to different countries.”
“Over 2,500 people have applied for asylum during the past several months, but none of them have been granted refugee status. What we have is an asylum-seekers card.”
(From The Hindu, 14 May, http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/tp-newdelhi/article3416750.ece)
Since 12 May night JNU Students’ Union members were not allowed by police to meet the refugees and hand over a relief amount that had been collected for them. On 13 May, all day, there was tension, as the police attempted to load the refugees on buses and take them to an unknown location. In the course of the day, hundreds from local villages in the area, accompanied by the local BJP MLA, gathered to demand removal of the refugees. The fact that the refugees are Muslims, has made them especially vulnerable to being targeted as ‘infiltrators.’ The VHP issued a press release demanding ‘deportation’ of ‘Myanmarese and Bangladeshi’ refugees, whom they branded as infiltrators and a ‘security threat’. JNUSU refused to be intimidated, and continued to try and explain matters to the villagers. Several intellectuals and concerned people including former Chief Justice Rajinder Sachar, senior journalist Kuldip Nayar, advocate Sanjay Parikh, Dr Sunilam, Anand Swarup Verma, Wilfred D Costa, Anil Chaudhary, Pushpraj, and Gopal Krishna, urgently faxed the Delhi Police Commissioner asking that the refugees be allowed to remain in Delhi safely till the UNHCR heard their case. Eventually, these efforts succeeded, and the JNUSU could hand over relief to the refugees by evening.
On May 15, JNUSU SSS Councillor, Shivani Nag along with human rights lawyer went to Sultangarhi to accompany the refugee leaders to UNHCR. Two journalists were also present. However, they had to face considerable hostility from the police personnel stationed there who consistently tried to instigate the refugees against the presence of JNU students. The refugees however didn’t get influenced by the instigation and continued to insist that the lawyer and the JNUSU representative be included as the participants in the meeting. Police however and didn’t even allow the refugees to speak to the JNUSU representative and took them to the UNHRC Office in three separate cars. The JNUSU representative, the lawyer and the two journalists nonetheless reached the UNHRC office in a separate vehicle to monitor situation.
The meeting transpired for nearly three and a half hours during which the JNUSU representative, lawyer and journalist were subjected to highhanded behaviour by the police not even being allowed stand in the vicinity of the office premises. After the meeting, the refugee representatives were whisked away by police, and two of them were detained by the police illegally for hours, with other refugees and JNUSU having no knowledge of their whereabouts.
On May 15, the JNUSU leaders along with Myanmar refugees’ representatives also met Delhi CM Sheila Dixit, and Congress MP Digvijay Singh.
Dildar Begum, a refugee: “Where do we go? We came to India to save ourselves from the atrocities back home in Myanmar. All that we want is refugee status or we should be sent to some other country where we can live with dignity. But instead we are being pushed from one place to another. Now we are even being asked leave this jungle where we have been struggling without water, food and shelter. Women are delivering in the open without any access to medical aid. Are we not human beings?”
From TOI, 14 May, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/delhi/Burmese-refugees-fear-the-worst/articleshow/13127434.cms
At a separate briefing to concerned parties including the JNUSU, the UNHRC Chief assured that they would continue to work towards ensuring that the basic rights of safety, education and health facilities are not denied to refugees once they return to the places in India from where they had come. They also assured that concrete steps would be taken to ensure that all the rights available to those with the Asylum Seeker’s Card which included that they are not unduly deported or detained are guaranteed.
JNUSU will keep up the mobilization and vigilance that have been built up during these days to ensure that the government, government agencies, UNHRC continue to honour their commitment towards protecting the rights of the refugees.