New Delhi: Despite the Supreme court putting the Centre’s plans to deport the Rohingyas to Myanmar on hold, the Delhi police has been going ahead with a verification drive to identify various categories of Myanmarese nationals in accordance with an advisory issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs on August 8. The action runs counter to the spirit of the SC’s directions in the last hearing where it had advised the government to ensure there are “no contingencies” while the case was pending.
As part of the exercise, the police have been conducting verification of various Myanmarese nationals since November 3, the date that orders for the drive reached the capital’s police stations.
In Vikas Puri in West Delhi, at a camp which houses about 170 Rohingya Christians belonging to around 35 families, the drive has caused a lot of consternation as it has scared the landlords and those who employed the Rohingyas.
Highlighting the plight of the community, Kabir Ahmad, who claims to be the chairman of Rohingya Christian refugee community, said all the community members had come to India from Myanmar to escape “ethnic cleansing”.
“We are the most persecuted and unwanted community in the world. We are under the refugee status of UNHCR – India. We came here in late 2012 and got refugee status in the beginning of 2013. Since then, we are here in India,” he said.
While over the past four years, the community had managed to gradually find a footing and tried to move on in life, rebuilding it from scratch, the last two months have been traumatic. Ever since the government of India declared that the Rohingya were “illegal immigrants”, the community’s fears have returned.
The locals, Ahmad said, are now fearful of employing Rohingyas so have been removing them from jobs. As for the landlords, he said, they too have been asking the Rohingya Christians to vacate their premises or face pressure from the police. Stating that the families had been residing in this area for the last year and a half, he said, while their tenancy agreement is valid for another eight months, the landlords are forcing them to vacate at the earliest. He said the situation had deteriorated rapidly after bodies of supposed Hindu victims of violence in Myanmar were found a couple of months back.
Ahmad said, Rohingyas, now being rendered jobless, were beginning to run out of food and facing a situation of starvation. They were not being able to provide their children with education either.
In view of the present situation, Ahmad has urged the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to intervene. “If UNHCR does not do anything to protect us, we 170 people will have to leave India without (our) will,” he said, adding that they would have to do so as they fear being arrested otherwise.
A social activist, who has been working for the welfare of the Rohingya Christians, said the refugees do not understand the purpose of this verification. She said, the local police do not understand the reason behind the exercise either.
They are just telling the Rohingyas that they have been given these forms following the MHA advisory, to have them filled up by the Myanmarese nationals. So the police personnel are just going to the community and getting the forms filled up.
With the community having built a good rapport with the local police over the past four years, the verification exercise has been running smoothly. Only some of the community leaders are making a connection between the deportation order and this verification exercise, said the activist.
This verification is being carried out only for all the Myanmarese people and while normally such verifications are carried out when people apply for a long term visa individually to the Foreigners Regional Registration Office, this time the exercise is being carried out to cover the full community.
On their being driven out of jobs by the locals for fear of persecution, the activist said, most of the Myanmarese refugees do not actually have the right to work and that is also a reason why their local employers are fearful of keeping them profitably engaged. “So legally, they are unable to even complain if they are removed from a job,” she said.
This group is all Christian and therefore they reside away from the majority of Rohingyas in Delhi, who are Muslims. There is also a small Hindu minority among the Rohingyas who live separately and as a dispersed lot.
Sitara, a community interpreter, said that while verification has been going on without any problem, it has the community worried about its future.