New Delhi, April 21 (IANS) Making pavements as their homes, over 500 hundred Myanmar nationals, among them women and children, have camped for the past 12 days near the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office here, demanding a refugee status.
"Life is not easy for refugees like us, who fled our country... at the age of 18... I have faced torture, extortion, trauma and starvation," Dilwana Begum, who works as a maid in Jammu, told IANS. "We are at least happy that unlike in our own country or Bangladesh, in India we feel safe and are not harassed for being Muslims. But the UNHCR is not paying heed to our plight."
Since April 9, Begum and over 500 people like her belonging to Burmese Rohingya community, a Muslim community hounded out from Myanmar (formerly Burma), have made temporary sheds of polythene sheets by the rear compound wall of the UNHCR office in B-2 Block of Vasant Vihar in south Delhi, demanding refugee cards.
"We were issued a asylum seeker card in August 2011 by the UNHCR, but it deprives us from lot of facilities that a refugee would get. We want a refugee card. Our children need education, better living conditions like water to drink and toilets. But we are deprived of this as we don't have a refugee card," said Zia-ul-Rahman, a refugee who left Myanmar two years ago and now lives in Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh.
The refugees say that for the past 12 days, most of them did menial jobs to get food and water.
"We are at their doorsteps seeking help, but the UNHCR has not even reached us to see how we are managing here with small children and old people, hope they know the real meaning of human rights," lamented Abdul Hafeez, who stays at the camp.
Hafeez speaks very little Hindi, and through an interpreter told IANS: "I lost my parents four years ago as the Burmese Junta shot them saying that they did not support the military regime. I had to discontinue my education. Like other refugees from Burma and countries like Afghanistan, Somalia, we need a refugee status so that I can continue my studies."
Another refugee, Mamoon Rafeeq who works as teacher in Jammu said that the Rohingyas have been sidelined in Myanmar as they are a Muslim community.
"Unlike other Myanmarese refugees, Rohingya has been sidelined because we are Muslims. Other Myanmar refugees who are Christians and Buddhists are given refugee card," Rafeeq claimed.
However, the UNHCR officials say that they discussed the issue with the refugees four to five times, but were not persuaded by their arguments.
The officials said they will now meet 10 representatives of the community on May 20.
"We don't use the term Rohingya - we refer to this group as Muslims from northern Rakhine state. In India, there is no national legal framework for refugees, and because of this there are different approaches to different groups of people," Nayana Bose, associate external relations officer UNHCR, told IANS.
"We have already registered them as asylum seekers and issued identity cards. The card is similar to the refugee card as it helps prevent harassment, arbitrary arrests, detention and expulsion," Bose said.
"Moreover, we are having an on-going dialogue with this group, and for their own safety and well-being, we have asked them to go back to their residential places in India. We have offered to meet their representatives in a more structured manner, to see how best we can assist them, as we do with all groups of refugees and asylum seekers," Bose added.
(Pratibha Raju can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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