‘Too good to be true’: Rohingya migrants’ hopes hit a dead-end

Updated on Aug 18, 2022 03:43 PM IST

Living in exile as refugees in Delhi since 2012, these people live in 53 ‘enclosures’ -- each one with four makeshift walls covered with bed sheets or tarpaulin.

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya people have fled Myanmar fearing persecution and violence in their home country. (Amal KS/HT Photo) PREMIUM
Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya people have fled Myanmar fearing persecution and violence in their home country. (Amal KS/HT Photo)

Nearly 350 members of 55 Rohingya Muslim families live on the banks of the Yamuna in south-east Delhi’s Madanpur Khadar. Local fishermen, fruit sellers, and the priests who live near the settlement, call them Bangladeshis and some even call them Muslims from China.

Living in exile as refugees in Delhi since 2012, these people live in 53 “enclosures” -- each one with four makeshift walls covered with bed sheets or tarpaulin. Most of them who saw a news clip about a government’s announcement that Rohingya refugees will be given flats, basic amenities and security said “it was too good to be true”.

Also Read | Confusion, clarification amid row on Rohingya

“We could not sleep. A home for us finally! We had a home once but our children have lived in these tents all their life. There was excitement and fear. But it was too good to be true,” said Mariyam, 23, who has been living in the camp since 2012, and first came to know about the news on Tuesday night.

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya people have fled Myanmar fearing persecution and violence in their home country.

Dozens of journalists who reached the camp on Wednesday morning confirmed the news and quoted a tweet by Union minister for housing and urban affairs Hardeep Puri. Journalists asked residents how they felt about finally getting a home in India.

Also Read | ‘Correct position’: Hardeep Puri after MHA rebuttal on Centre’s Rohingya plan

Mariyam added, “A local activist came to us and said we should gather our belongings. He said the shifting could happen anytime. But even as some residents thanked the government and were giving interviews, some of us were careful. I told my family, I would only leave if the police comes and takes us to the government flats.”

By noon, the muddy road leading to the refugee camp was full of cars with press stickers and cabs. Some locals also complained about the haphazardly parked vehicles. Inside the refugee camp, the male residents spoke to the press while women stood by the doors of their tents.

But, little past noon, the mood around the camp changed as the Union home ministry clarified that there was no plan to allot government flats to Rohingya refugees.

Also Read | Centre backtracks on relocation of Rohingyas; VHP says they are ‘infiltrators’

“We are not beggars but desperate people who were forced to flee our country. We are helpless here. We were driven out of our homes. My mother died some years ago but I could meet her. She had escaped to Bangladesh but got stuck there. We do not want flats. We want to return to Myanmar when the time is right, and live peacefully here until then,” said Kabir Ahmed, 40, who lives in the camp with his wife and five children.

Ahmed works as a daily wage carpenter like the many other Rohingya men, who work as labourers, drive e-rickshaws, sell scrap and work at local hotels in the nearby Jamia Nagar, Shaheen Bagh and Sarita Vigar areas.

By late afternoon, most residents were seen refusing to speak to the press. Pointing towards the Tricolour hoisted at one of the makeshift tents, Akil, 35 said, “We are not criminals. We do not want flats. We pray that the government does not send us to a detention camp. We first learnt about the news on WhatsApp. We do not trust WhatsApp. It is full of fake news .”

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Prawesh Lama covers crime, policing, and issues of security in Delhi. Raised in Darjeeling, educated in Mumbai, he also looks at special features on social welfare in the National Capital.

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