Jammu/New Delhi, Dec 3: Just past noon on November 8, two United Nations officers from Delhi waited for about two dozen Rohingya refugees in a white, ground-floor room in Jammu with a message: “You may face problems or dangers in Jammu, move out if you want, we will fund you,” several refugees said.
The Rohingyas, mainly Muslims, had fled Myanmar because of a military crackdown against them in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, reached Jammu after travelling through Bangladesh and crossing the border in West Bengal. They are spread out in several refugee camps.
But protests by members of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Jammu and Kashmir National Panthers Party (JKNPP) have added an element of uncertainty to their stay in Jammu. The protestors have been demanding the Muslim refugees be ousted from Jammu, calling them “illegal”.
The UN officers, who belonged to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), along with UNHCR’s partner organisations, later visited Rohingya refugee settlements in Jammu with the same message, according to refugees at the five settlements which this IANS correspondent visited.
“They came here and said that we may face problems in Jammu and they will give money if we want to go to Delhi, Hyderabad, or Mewat,” Iman Sheriff, 22, said outside his shack in Channi Rama of south Jammu.
The aid from UNHCR includes travel expenses, assistance to build a shack in the new place, and ration for a month, according to the refugees.
When reached for a comment on the relocation of refugees from Jammu, UNHCR, which protects refugees and resolves their problems worldwide, told IANS that it had been “supporting some refugees in Jammu who wish to move to other locations”.
A UNHCR spokesperson said it was due to “protection concerns, among other reasons”, but did not elaborate. “At this stage, we are only able to provide this information,” a UNHCR email response read.
“They are big people and we are illiterate. How will we ask them questions?” Anwar Hussain, 26, said, when asked whether they sought any clarification from UNHCR.
But very few are willing to take up the offer.
IANS spoke to several of the refugees. But they said that despite protests they were not ready to leave. “We are used to Jammu, we know everyone over here, why would we leave?” Anwar said.
The refugees, who had left their farms, houses and life savings behind, said they were not ready to face another displacement.
“What if the UN later tells us that Delhi is not safe, go to Kolkata? What if they then tell us to go back to Myanmar?” another refugee asked.
“I’ll be the last one to leave,” Sheriff, a ragpicker, said, standing next to huge piles of plastic bottles, cardboard and waste — his workplace — in Channi Rama.
“They said they will build jhuggis for us. But where will we go to eat? Here we know all the streets and can earn our roti,” Sheriff said. “What will I do in a new place? Who will look after my old parents?” the youth asked.
Rohingyas, an ethnic minority in Myanmar, were denied citizenship in the country. Termed as one of the “world’s most persecuted minority” they have been facing brutality at the hands of the Myanmar military.
In September, the UN had termed the operations targeting Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing” and urged the country to end the “cruel military operation”.
The organisation also said that it had received multiple reports of security forces “burning Rohingya villages, and consistent accounts of extra-judicial killings, including shooting fleeing civilians”.
More than 800,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar in the last five years as a result of the violence, according to UNHCR, and there are around 21,500 Rohingya refugees and asylum seekers in India.
Rohingyas that IANS met in the slum clusters of Jammu and Delhi said memories of the military harassment, including rape of their relatives, still haunt them.
“I fled after military men tried to enter my home one day when my wife was alone,” said Bashir Ahmad, 30, a refugee in Jammu.
In Jammu, their stay has become increasingly uncertain since November last year when protests against them started.
Both the BJP and JKNPP have been vocal about their demand to drive out “Rohingyas and Bangladeshis” and the latter had put billboards in the city urging Rohingyas to “Quit Jammu”.
“We have been taking out rallies, conducting seminars and public awareness meetings (to drive out Rohingyas),” the Chairman of JKNPP, Harsh Dev Singh, told IANS, calling Rohingyas a “cultural threat”.
In February, BJP’s Jammu legal cell member Hunar Gupta had filed a PIL seeking “identification and deportation of Rohingyas and Bangladeshis from Jammu”.
In September, about 12 refugees were detained by police after a cow’s carcass was found near one of the refugee settlements. The police action came after BJP and Shiv Sena members protested.
The Inspector General of Police (IGP) Jammu, S.D. Singh, told IANS that the protests were for “political gains” but added that conditions were peaceful.
The Indian government in August had termed Rohingyas a “security threat” and asked states to identify and deport them.
Later, the Supreme Court barred the deportation and is expected to hear the case on December 5.