Sunday, May 13, 2012

In the heart of New Delhi, 2500 “refugees” who came in from the cold*

In the heart of New Delhi, 2500 “refugees” who came in from the cold*First, some “facts”. “Facts” within quotes because no one quite appears to know the “truth”. I am therefore relying on emails, first-person (albeit unverified) accounts, news-reports and of course, the wonderful world of internet..As you will realise after reading this, the whole thing appears mysterious – and raises more questions than answers. Earlier yesterday morning, I was alerted to this news-report (from the HT) by Sh Krishen Kak (emphasis added, throughout):

Over 2,500 refugees from Myanmar have landed right in front of the 13th century tomb of Sultan Garhi — an Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) protected monument — at Rangpuri area near Vasant Kunj. ..Registered as ‘asylum-seekers’ by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), these families from Northern Rakhine state of Myanmar landed in Delhi a month ago and had camped in Vasant Vihar.”Following complaints from people in Vasant Vihar, they voluntarily shifted to another location,” said Nayana Bose, associate external relations officer, UNHCR. They started reaching the tomb from Sunday evening and trickled in till Monday too. Zia-ur-Rehman, from the group, said, “We demand a valid ‘refugee’ status. There is a meeting on May 15 (and) we plan to stay here till then.“I decided to dig deeper and found that the JNU Students Union has got involved and is demanding that “The issue of refugees languishing on the streets of Delhi for more than a month in the summer heat has to be addressed immediately. As of now, the refugees only have an asylum status. The government and the UNHCR must grant official a refugee status to them so that they can avail their basic rights with a sense of dignity
I also learnt that:
Over 600 Rohingya Muslim families had fled from Western Myanmar to India about two years ago… They arrived in Delhi on April 9
Just how did these 600 families turn up one fine day in the heart of New Delhi after “travelling” for over 2 years in India? No one seems to know. I then discovered (via an email from Sh Mohan Sethi) that the shift to the site at Vasant Kunj (from the UNHCR office in Vasant Vihar) happened sometime on 7th May. Subsequently an all-party meeting of the local panchayats and RWAs was called, which was also attended by the local MLA and leaders from Congress, BJP and others. It appears that the refugees had been in Vasant Vihar for at least a week before the move to Vasant Kunj (how did no one notice?). They moved to Vasant Kunj on someone’s “invitation” (Were they promised some shelter/arrangement if they moved here?). It was not clear who was providing these refugees with food, water etc. After a lot of deliberations, the meeting concluded with a decision to wait until 15th May and see what happens after that.

The local RWAs subsequently invited a few TV channels to cover this “news” and yesterday also met CM Sheila Dikshit who assured them that the refugees will bemoved by 16th May. A few questions still remain..
  • Who is ensuring, taking care of basic hygiene and sanitation needs of these 2500-odd men, women and children?
  • What about their basic needs (water, food, shelter)?
  • Who is making sure that the conditions do not lead to an outbreak of disease or an epidemic?
  • What about security concerns?
  • Is a watch being maintained at the site?
  • What about the risk of vigilante action?
  • What about the security risk posed by the “camp” being just a few kms away from the airport?
  • What about the risk to safety and security of local residents?
Now, a little bit more about who exactly are these refugees and why did they move out of Myanmar / Burma? To most of us who are blissfully unaware of India’s geography and the strategic vulnerability along the entire north-eastern region of India, the presence of Burmese refugees in New Delhi might look like an oddity. Elsewhere in India, it is anything but..
…According to local media reports, about 50,000 displaced Burmese have been living in different parts of neighbouring Mizoram, bordering Myanmar and Bangladesh, and working at various shops and factories after obtaining work permits.
While the Rohingya Muslims are being pushed out from Myanmar, their increasing numbers in the sparsely populated and heavily forested north-eastern Indian states are a cause of concern. Many of the local people have turned hostile to the steadily increasing numbers. The fear is that these people will slip into the general Indian population. [source]

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