In the heart of New Delhi, 2500 “refugees” who came in from the cold*
First, some “facts”. “Facts” within quotes because no one quite appears to know the “truth”. I am therefore relying on emails, first-person (albeit unverified) accounts, news-reports and of course, the wonderful world of internet..As you will realise after reading this, the whole thing appears mysterious – and raises more questions than answers. Earlier yesterday morning, I was alerted to this news-report (from the HT) by Sh Krishen Kak (emphasis added, throughout):
Over 2,500 refugees from Myanmar have landed right in front of the 13th century tomb of Sultan Garhi — an Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) protected monument — at Rangpuri area near Vasant Kunj. ..Registered as ‘asylum-seekers’ by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), these families from Northern Rakhine state of Myanmar landed in Delhi a month ago and had camped in Vasant Vihar.”Following complaints from people in Vasant Vihar, they voluntarily shifted to another location,” said Nayana Bose, associate external relations officer, UNHCR. They started reaching the tomb from Sunday evening and trickled in till Monday too. Zia-ur-Rehman, from the group, said, “We demand a valid ‘refugee’ status. There is a meeting on May 15 (and) we plan to stay here till then.“
I decided to dig deeper and found that the JNU Students Union has got involved and is demanding that “The issue of refugees languishing on the streets of Delhi for more than a month in the summer heat has to be addressed immediately. As of now, the refugees only have an asylum status. The government and the UNHCR must grant official a refugee status to them so that they can avail their basic rights with a sense of dignity”
I also learnt that:
Over 600 Rohingya Muslim families had fled from Western Myanmar to India about two years ago… They arrived in Delhi on April 9
Just how did these 600 families turn up one fine day in the heart of New Delhi after “travelling” for over 2 years in India? No one seems to know. I then discovered (via an email from Sh Mohan Sethi) that the shift to the site at Vasant Kunj (from the UNHCR office in Vasant Vihar) happened sometime on 7th May. Subsequently an all-party meeting of the local panchayats and RWAs was called, which was also attended by the local MLA and leaders from Congress, BJP and others. It appears that the refugees had been in Vasant Vihar for at least a week before the move to Vasant Kunj (how did no one notice?). They moved to Vasant Kunj on someone’s “invitation” (Were they promised some shelter/arrangement if they moved here?). It was not clear who was providing these refugees with food, water etc. After a lot of deliberations, the meeting concluded with a decision to wait until 15th May and see what happens after that.
The local RWAs subsequently invited a few TV channels to cover this “news” and yesterday also met CM Sheila Dikshit who assured them that the refugees will bemoved by 16th May. A few questions still remain..
- Who is ensuring, taking care of basic hygiene and sanitation needs of these 2500-odd men, women and children?
- What about their basic needs (water, food, shelter)?
- Who is making sure that the conditions do not lead to an outbreak of disease or an epidemic?
- What about security concerns?
- Is a watch being maintained at the site?
- What about the risk of vigilante action?
- What about the security risk posed by the “camp” being just a few kms away from the airport?
- What about the risk to safety and security of local residents?
Now, a little bit more about who exactly are these refugees and why did they move out of Myanmar / Burma? To most of us who are blissfully unaware of India’s geography and the strategic vulnerability along the entire north-eastern region of India, the presence of Burmese refugees in New Delhi might look like an oddity. Elsewhere in India, it is anything but..
…According to local media reports, about 50,000 displaced Burmese have been living in different parts of neighbouring Mizoram, bordering Myanmar and Bangladesh, and working at various shops and factories after obtaining work permits.
While the Rohingya Muslims are being pushed out from Myanmar, their increasing numbers in the sparsely populated and heavily forested north-eastern Indian states are a cause of concern. Many of the local people have turned hostile to the steadily increasing numbers. The fear is that these people will slip into the general Indian population. [source]
Infiltration of Myanmarese nationals to Tripura through Bangladesh has emerged as a new problem in the frontier state that is surrounded by Bangladesh on three sides. Since July 2011, 95 Myanmarese, comprising Rohingya Muslims and Buddhist tribals, have been detained in Tripura after they sneaked into the state through Bangladesh. Myanmarese nationals illegally crossing over into India has also become a major problem in Mizoram, with unofficial estimates putting the number of such infiltrators at around 40,000.
The Indian Passport Act permits Myanmarese nationals, particularly Chins and Burmese Mizos, to travel up to 16 km inside Mizoram as they have relatives on both sides. But most people travel beyond the 16-km limit and stay back causing both population and law and order problems for Mizoram.
It is not clear why Rohingya Muslims do not cross over to Bangladesh but the reasons may be economic. However, India is not alone in terms of their destination. And here is an account of some of the “discriminations” they suffer in Myanmar.
Coming back to Delhi, who might be providing these “refugees” food, shelter and such other basic necessities? This report has a clue (“Refugees claiming to be ‘Burmese’ at Delhi; Source: The Sangai Express / Ninglun Hanghal):
..The refugees numbering more than five hundred lives in small tent camps, thought(sic) the lad claimed that the number would be even more than that. They came all the way by road , train, most of them have scattered in different parts of the country Sajjid said.
He further explained that Muslim communities in Delhi support and help them and provide their basic food and water. Speaking in fluent Hindi, the lad further explained that they are applying for refugee status from UNHCR..
On asked what they would do after that , the lad explained that they would demand for basic rights and facilities to be provided under the refugees status.
But the fundamental questions remain: How and why did these “refugees” trek across thousands of kilometres to camp in New Delhi? Who was leading them? Who guided them? Who is providing for them? And what exactly does the government plan to do about it? Is it really hoping that they will simply go back if asked politely?
And how many are they? No one appears to know for sure (in keeping with the great tradition in Indian media). The HT report mentions “over 2500“; Indian Express (re. JNU students) mentions “600 families“; the E-pao report above mentions “500″ or more and this report mentions “..700 people“. Questions and more questions…
Finally, guess what – according to “The Hindu” – is the most important dimension to this situation?
The controversy over the camping of Myanmar refugees in a protected area in Delhi has several dimensions, the most important being that the land is home to a 13th Century mausoleum for Altamash’s son, the second to be built in the Indian subcontinent [source]
Truly “MerA BhArat MahAn” मेरा भारत महान !
P.S. The Rohingya (Rohingiya) Muslims are not the only refugees from Myanmar in India..There are Christian refugees too (- not that you would notice this if you simply read the news-reports; Most simply mention “refugees”).
Update: Just came across this odd-statement from CM Sheila Dikshit:
..DDA, chief minister Sheila Dikshit on Saturday said that a way would soon be found to relocate them. “Earlier it was thought that the land belonged to Waqf Board, but it is not so. The land belongs to Delhi Development Authority (DDA),” Dikshit said.
So it is OK to encroach on Waqf land? or is it OK to encroach on Waqf land by Muslims from the Ummah? Just wondering.