International

Burmese Muslim Refugees on the verge of starvation on Delhi streets

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New Delhi: Over a thousand Muslim asylum-seekers from Arakan province of Myanmar  are camping since mid-April on footpaths near the office of the United Nation’s High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in New Delhi. They are on the verge of starvation due to the apathy of UNHCR towards their plight. They are living on the food offered to them by the local Muslims from across the road and are deprived of basic amenities and  medical facilities.

Mamoon Rafeeq, 45, originally a resident of Mangdaw district of Arakan region, said that the UNHCR officials are discriminating against them because they are Muslims. Mamoon added that “Non-Muslim asylum-seekers from Myanmar get their refugee status card within months or even days but we are being kept waiting for years. Instead of proper refugee cards, we are being issued cards which say that we are ‘asylum seekers’ and even this card is issued without our father’s name and address. These issues have not been solved despite many meetings with the UNHCR officials.” He further said that the Arakan Muslims are seeking refugee status since 1982 when they started migrating into India.  Mamoon rued that the UNHCR cards which were given to them were of no use as they could not seek admission into any school for their children or get employment for themselves while in India. Mamoon told MG that at present around 10 to 15 thousand Arakani Muslims are living in different parts of India. He said that some of our people are incarcerated in Andaman jail also.

The Arakan refugees said that they were living a nomadic life now and it was difficult for them to predict their children’s future. They said that in the year 1982 their Burmese citizenship was cancelled when a new Constitution came into force in Myanmar. Through the provisions of the new Constitution, the Arakan Muslims, known as Rohigya, were declared as “Bangladeshis” who had been brought into Burma (now called Myanmar) as slaves. Now restrictions were imposed on Muslims of Arakan. They no longer remained free to move around within their own province and districts or even between their villages. They were asked to report to the local police authorities before entertaining guests and/relatives at their homes. Their land rights were confiscated. They have to report to the police the number of living or dead animals such as cows and goats in their possession.  Arakan Muslim children are not allowed to study beyond class XII. All these atrocities are being meted out to Arakan Muslims by their own countrymen and government.

Mamoon expressed his gratefulness to the compassion of Indian society and people and the support and acceptance Indians have given to them. Despite such hardships faced by the Arakan Muslims, Mamoon hoped for the good times to come soon when they and their people would return to their homeland. He again thanked the Indian people and disappeared among his folks smiling at this reporter.

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 May 2012 on page no. 16

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