Against All Odds, Rohingya Refugees Learn the Art of Survival

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Rohingya refugees socialising outside their hutments on the outskirts of Delhi. — Photos: Clarion India

A number of houses and warehouses have emerged within a couple of years but the area is still a reflection of a slum settlement

Mohd Aasif | Clarion India

NEW DELHI – The pain of surviving exile in an unknown country and under abject misery is something only a refugee can tell. One cannot understand it without going beyond the barriers of one’s own prejudices. The condition in which a refugee survives definitely brings inferiority complex to an individual and a community too. This is why most of the Rohingyas are not comfortable speaking with the native people. This journalist’s request for a chat was turned down blaming that the media always misrepresents their thoughts.

I walked down through the zig-zag and ill-constructed lanes. Fumes of the animal dung alongside small fields of green vegetables grown by local farmers give the image of a small village in the countryside, I was led to Mohd Sirajullah, popularly known as Riyaz in Shram Vihar, Kalindi Kunj area, on the outskirts of Delhi.

Alongside a hut, Sirajullah was working on a laptop waiting for his students of different subjects. He is one of the young community leaders of Rohingyas. He was separated from his family in 2012. He started Rohingya Youth Club after he came to Delhi’s Shram Vihar.

Kid Playing outside the hut in the refugee camp.

With the famous road that was blocked during the anti-CAA movement of Shaheen Bagh women on the one side and the metro line on the other, Sirajullah’s den gives a quite opposite side of the glittering National Capital. He is a young man in his thirties who represents the Rohingya community at various platforms in the country.

Working with Don Bosco, a Non-Government Organisation (NGO), Sirajullah connects the needy with government dispensaries and Mohalla Clinics. “I try to help everyone, be it a Rohingya or an Indian”, he said.

“Doctors and authorised persons in the government dispensaries and Mohalla Clinics used to ask for Aadhar Cards for the treatment, but after deliberation with authorities, they are convinced and now treat people on the basis of UNHCR refugee cards”, he added.

A number of houses and warehouses have emerged within a couple of years but the area is still a reflection of a slum settlement. Mohd Islam, manager of the Social Welfare department at Human Welfare Foundation, told Clarion India that the area inhabited around 500 families displaced from their motherland or belonging to several states of India. Among them, 90 families are from Myanmar who identify themselves as Rohingya Muslims.

Electricity meters outside the camp

Though Sirajullah and others told Clarion India that their standard of living had been elevated, they don’t get any supply of drinking water in the area. All the people drink underground water through a hand pump, banned across the national capital.

However, refugees are not entitled to any salaried employment in India, and, hence, most of them win their bread as daily wage labourers. The coronavirus pandemic-induced the lockdown, Siraj says, has deprived them of even daily wage opportunities. Many h turned ragpickers. Local scrap businessmen buy the junk they collect. A couple of them have opened a small general store.

Jauhar Ali, a law student and member of the Rohingya Literacy mission, said that they were in negotiation with government authorities regarding their contribution as manpower. “We want to be seen as a human resource for India”, he added.

While talking about the conditions during the lockdown, Sirajuallah said, “We have come to know the difference between poor and rich in the total lockdown. Only the poor can look after the poor and we did so; only this way we could survive.”

As the community is concerned about their survival and betterment, it led to the constitution of the Rohingya Refugee Committee (RRC). Sirajullah took me there. On the way, I met some young boys in a similar jersey with an image of a football. They were the members of the Rohingya Youth Club and footballers of their team.

Office of the Rohingya Refugee Committee

Usman Ali, chairperson of RRC, who was engrossed in examining the records of the ration distributed two days ago, and sponsored by Don Bosco in collaboration with United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), said, “We have to maintain records of the distribution.” He was in a haste of finishing his work in order to meet the deadline.

RRC takes care of its people in India. “We get people out of police custody as and when nabbed on suspicion due to foreign language. We help in release of newly-arrived refugees from the custody of security forces. Getting them refugee cards from the embassy is the task of RRC”, said Sirajullah.

During the course of my conversation with Sirajullah, he told me that he had been involved in prohibition of child marriage, child labour and rehabilitation of the drug addicts. Apart from community teaching, Siraj was constantly indulged in spreading social awareness. “I took the help of the Women Commission and Child Commission to help the victims”, he said.

Usman Ali, Chairperson of Rohingya Refugee Committee and Sirajullah, community leader.

Asked whether they ever helped or will help Indians in the times of crisis, he replied with a smile, “We have and we will because humanity is still alive”.

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