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Rohingya exiles struggle to survive in India

About 1,500 Rohingya Muslims displaced from Myanmar camp in Hyderabad city but basic amenities eludes them.

Last updated: 06 Jan 2014 16:30
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Tarpaulin sheets and open sewage greet visitors in Rohingya camps in Hyderabad [MAR Fareed/Al Jazeera]

For hundreds of Rohingya - a Muslim minority group in Myanmar - settled in makeshift camps in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad, it is a daily struggle for survival.

More than 1,500 Rohingya people who were displaced from Myanmar have been camping in the city for more than a year, but basic amenities such as food, clean water, medicine and clothes still eludes them.

They arrived in India after being attacked by the ethnic Rakhine Budhists, while Myanmar's government forces did little to stop the violent assaults.

A number of widows and pregnant women are living in precarious conditions, but children are the worst affected, with many falling sick due to the lack of proper food and medicine.

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Noor Mohammad, 50, lifts his two-year-old son in his hands and says that he has a cough and a fever.

"He has become severely malnourished. There is not enough food for him. He needs medicines and clean drinking water," he said.

Mujeeb Ahmed, 32, has been living in the settlement for more than a year, but life continues to pose great challenges.

"They are deprived of education and good health. We badly need help," said Ahmed, who fled Myanmar along with his wife and two daughters.

A few go out and work as daily labourers at construction sites, but many of them are forced to sit in the camp and depend on charitable organisations for survival.

Lack of fluency in the local languages, Telugu and Urdu, has badly affected their job prospects.

However, some of the city residents have come forward with helping hands, providing much-needed food items.

Rohingya people have been living in various places in the city such as Hafeezbabanagar, Balapur, Kishanbagh and Pahadeshareef in cramped settlements.

Tarpaulin sheets and open sewage greet visitors. Most tents have come up in a property provided by philanthropic individuals.

Ahmed Al Saadi, a businessman, was among those who donated his land for the refugees.

"What I am doing is a kind of charity but they need a lot more help and support from individuals and organisations. They left everything back home," he said.

The the United Nations' refugee agency, UNHCR, said many children were working to support their families instead of attending school.

"Sanitation and health issues are of concern, especially in the makeshift settlements, including maternal and child health," a spokesperson of the agency said.

Atrocities

More than 125,000 Rohingya and other Muslim groups have been displaced due to the atrocities committed by Myanmarese authorities and Rakhine Budhists, including large scale massacres, burning of mosques and homes of poor civilians, according to a report by the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW).

They are deprived of education and good health. We badly need help

Mujeeb Ahmed, Rohingya refugee

In its report released in April last year under the title "All you can do is pray: Crimes against humanity and ethnic cleaning of Rohingya Muslims in Burma’s (aka Myanmar) Arakan state", the HRW accused the Myanmarese authorities and members of Arakanese groups of committing crimes against humanity in a campaign of ethnic cleansing against Rohingya Muslims.

According to the UN refugee agency there are about 5,500 Rohingya refugees and asylum-seekers from Myanmar registered in India spread across the states of Andhra Pradesh, Delhi, Jammu, Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.

Most of them live in settlements while a few who have found jobs have rented houses.

Each one of them has a sad tale to narrate. They all escaped persecution and murder and trekked an often perilous journey to reach India by crossing the Bangladesh border.

Mohammed Shaker, 66, lost his uncle in the violence. He was a farmer growing potatoes but had to abandon it.

Abdul Majeed, an Islamic preacher lost his brother and sister in the riots. He said the Islamic school he used to teach in, was burnt down by Buddhists.

"I am lucky to be alive. My old parents still live there. There is total mayhem in my village in Arakan state and youth are specially targeted," he said.

He said there is a severe restriction on movement of Muslims and practice their religion.

"Schools are burnt down and mosques are demolished. There is no freedom to practice our religion in Burma," he said.

NGOs pitch in

Confederation of Voluntary Association (COVA), a non-profit organisation based in Hyderabad, is helping victims by distributing food and conducting medical camps.

They also conducted a camp to educate the police on how to deal with refugees. Some refugees complained that police have been harassing them and asking for identity and the reason for coming to Hyderabad.

101 East - Nowhere To Go

Naseer Siddique, a coordinator of COVA, said that refugees are under tremendous stress. "They are not able to cope in a new place. We are counselling them to help lead a normal life," he said.

UNHCR said refugees in India have access to government health and education services, but sometimes they have difficulties in accessing these facilities.

"Poverty is a key challenge for many refugees and asylum-seekers in India, particularly the Rohingya. As the Rohingya find themselves in a foreign urban environment with limited education, they often work as daily wage labourers and may not make enough to cover their basic needs," the spokesperson said.

According to the agency, Rohingyas in Myanmar’s Rakhine state continue to face restrictions in their daily movements. As a result, they have limited access to basic services like health care.

They also have no access to jobs as they cannot go to the farms, sea or markets where they used to work before the 2012 riots. These restrictions are making it hard for many Rohingya to survive in their country.

"Eighteen months after the first wave of unrest in Rakhine state, tensions are still high between the Muslims and Buddhists. About 140,000 people remain internally displaced and unable to go home. The majority are Rohingya, but there are also other ethnic groups among the Muslims, including the Rakhine, Kaman and the Maramagyi," the spokesperson added.

UNHCR and other members of the international community have been advocating urgent action to promote reconciliation between the two communities.

The refugees are willing to go back if things improve.

"We want to return to our land if peace returns. We left everything to come here. We miss our land," said Ahmed.

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Al Jazeera
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