Rohingya asylum seekers take shelter from the sun under a tarpaulin as they protest near the UNHCR's office in New Delhi. (Photo: Zarni Mann / The Irrawaddy)
Hundreds of Rohingya asylum seekers who have staged a protest in New Delhi since April 9 have been urged by a UN official to go back to their places of residence in India without delay, with assurances that the government of India will soon issue them long-term visas.
According to the official from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), the Rohingyas will also be granted access to education and health care like other refugees or asylum seekers in India.
However, several of the Rohingya protesters claimed that the police pressured them to go back to their residences but abandoned them at Delhi railway station.
“After our meeting with the UNHCR, the police brought us to the railway station in buses and just dropped us here,” said a spokesman for the group. “Those who live nearby at Kashmiri Gate [in Delhi] can go home directly, but the rest of us don’t know what to do and have no money to buy tickets.”
Meanwhile, a case to determine the legal status of these Rohingya people will be heard at Delhi High Court on Wednesday.
According to The Indian Express, the court was to hear an application by a lawyer who requested an official order by the government to provide free food, water, toilet facilities and medical assistance to the group.
A week ago, the Rohingyas were forced to leave a site where they had pitched tents and protested outside the UNHCR’s office in an upscale New Delhi neighborhood.
Many then relocated their protest to an open area near Sultan Garhi, a protected monument in the Indian capital.
Last Sunday, the police ordered the “squatters” to move following complaints from locals and resident welfare associations. Meanwhile, many students from the nearby Jawaharlal Nehru University showed solidarity with the protesters by providing them food and water.
According to the Hindustan Times, New Delhi’s Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit said on Sunday that she has asked officials to discuss and find a solution to the Rohingya issue before May 16, and that she was confident a way would be found to relocate them soon.
The Rohingya people live in different areas across India, including Jammu, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. They are unable to apply for refugee status with the UNHCR, which said it has around 1,800 Rohingyas registered as asylum seekers in India.
The UNHCR said it has issued each one an identity card to protect them from harassment, arbitrary arrest, detention and expulsion, and to prevent them from being forced back to a country where their lives or freedoms may be in danger. The UNHCR said this gives them the same protection as other refugees.