Compulsions drove us to take shelter in J&K: Rohingyas

The Rohingyas are a Bengali-dialect speaking Muslim minority in Myanmar. Following “persecution” in their country, many of them entered India illegally through Bangladesh and took shelter here.

TARIQ A SOFI
Jammu, Publish Date: Aug 21 2017 12:12AM | Updated Date: Aug 21 2017 12:12AM
Compulsions drove us to take shelter in J&K: RohingyasFile Photo

Amid calls for their deportation from India, Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar say they have settled in Jammu and Kashmir because of compulsions, and not out of choice, and that they will return to their country once the situation becomes favourable.

More than 13,700 foreigners, including Rohingya Muslims and Bangladesh nationals, are settled in Jammu and Samba districts, where their population has increased by over 6,000 between 2008 and 2016, according to data available with the state government.

"We are in J&K because of some compulsions, and not out of choice. We know this is not our land. We will leave on our own once those compulsions are addressed by the global community and we get justice," 35-year-old Mohammad Yusuf, the head of a camp for Rohingya refugees, said. 

The Rohingyas are a Bengali-dialect speaking Muslim minority in Myanmar. Following “persecution” in their country, many of them entered India illegally through Bangladesh and took shelter here.

"We were boarded into a train and asked to embark at the last station when the whole train gets empty. We were not aware that it is Jammu. We came to know at the railway station that some Rohingyas were living 

here and met them. This is how we reached here," he said, explaining why they landed in Jammu and Kashmir, several thousand miles from their homes.

The Rohingya refugees are aware of reports about New Delhi's plan to deport them and the 'Quit Jammu' campaign by certain social and political organisations that see their presence as a "conspiracy to alter the demographic character and a threat to the peace in the region".

Fear of deportation writ large on the faces of the refugees at their temporary cluster in Narwal on the Jammu- Pathankot highway. Yusuf, originally a resident of the worst-hit Arakan in Myanmar, has been living in one of the 75 shanties, along with his wife and four minor children. The settlement is considered the largest on the outskirts of the city.

Such camps have also been set up at a number of other places including Bhagwati Nagar, Ban Talab, Channi and Bari Brahmana in Samba district.

"We are not involved in any criminal activity and are doing odd jobs to make our living. Most of us work as wage labourers, rag-pickers, scrap-dealers and a few are working at railway stations as sweepers," he said.

Rohingyas are facing a battle for survival, he says. "We are paying Rs 800 per month as rent to the land owner for each shanty and electricity connection," said Yusuf, surrounded by a group of men and children who nodded in agreement.

On August 18, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) issued a notice to the Centre over the plan to deport Rohingya refugees. The NHRC notice came just days after UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres expressed concern over India's plan, and said the refugees should not be returned to the countries where they fear persecution.

The Human Rights Watch's South Asia also asked India to abide by its international legal obligations and not forcibly return Rohingya refugees to Myanmar.

Yusuf, who had arrived in Jammu in 2012 and got registration card from the UNHCR the next year, said there are around 8,000 Rohingyas in Jammu and none of them had ever been arrested for “terror links.”

The state government had said only 17 FIRs were lodged against 38 Rohingyas for various offences, including illegal border-crossing.

Yusuf, who is also the prayer leader and runs a madrasa within the settlement for the children of their community, said their religious belief is the same as of 'Deobandi' thought and "we believe in non-violence".

Yusuf was all praise for the people of Jammu. "After a fire left us on the roads with all our belongings consumed by flames, the people came forward and helped generously to make us to restart our shattered lives," he said, referring to the fire in their camp earlier.

He, however, said they did not get any institutional help, except from an NGO, Save the Children.  In May, the state government had announced the setting up of a high-level Group Of Ministers (GoM) on the issue of illegal settlement of foreign immigrants in Jammu and Samba. The panel is yet to submit its report, drawing criticism even from the BJP which is a part of the coalition government.

"We want to go back to our homeland but the oppression is keeping us away. We know we will be killed if we go back," said Muhammad Zakariya in one of the camps for Rohingyas. PTI