Rohingya refugees arrive in Hyderabad, India, where well-off Muslims welcomed them during the month of Ramadan. Photo: SCMP
By Bushra Baseerat
Times of India:
April 15, 2013
HYDERABAD Looking at least 10 years older than his age, 27-year-old Mohammed Shaker can pass off as a north Indian settled in Hyderabad but for his broken Hindi. Shaker is actually a Rohingya Muslim who fled Myanmar for safety and sought refuge in Hyderabad four months ago to escape the sectarian violence and bloodshed that is rocking the Southeast Asian nation.
Ask him how he landed in Hyderabad, and Shaker recalls his three-day long arduous journey on foot through a rough mountain terrain in the dead of the night to reach the Myanmar border from where he was made to board a boat run by smugglers to reach the Bangladesh border. Hours later, he reached the shore and was stowed in a truck to be finally dropped near the West Bengal border. And it took him 9 days to finally land in Hyderabad.
There are many refugees like Shaker in Hyderabad. They have chilling stories to narrate about the ongoing sectarian violence in Myanmar. “Muslims are forbidden by Buddhists to step out of their houses during daytime. Those who refuse to comply with this order are killed. My uncle who stepped out of the house got killed this way,” said Mohammed Shamshu, 25, while his companion Mohammed Shoeb, 19, showed on hismobile phone gory pictures of Muslim men being stabbed and bludgeoned to death. Healthcare, education and other services are a distant dream for us, Shoeb added.
“Shopkeepers would not sell ration to us. As a result, we stealthily buy food items in the dark and sustain by eating once in a day or two,” said Mohammed Sadiq, another refugee highlighting the terrible toll of hunger. Many Muslim women who lost their husbands in the riots ended up starving as even their cattle was taken away from them, rued Sadiq, who was fortunate enough to escape along with his wife. Both Muslim men and women willing to marry have to separately cough up a hefty tax, and pay even more if the married couple has children, but the same did not apply to Buddhists, he lamented.
Fleeing from their native country, the Rohingya Muslims have settled down in many cities in India, including Hyderabad. From about 150 such settlers in early 2012, the number of Rohingya Muslims in the city has shot up to 1,200 now. These asylum seekers, mostly in the young age group, are settled in Hafizbabanagar, Balapur and Kishanbagh areas of Old City, work as daily wagers and live crammed into cheap quarters.
“After the riots in Myanmar in June last year, there was a fresh wave of exodus late last year. Besides India, these refugees are fleeing to Bangladesh, Thailand, Singapore and other countries,” said Mazher Hussain, executive director, Confederation of Voluntary Associations (Cova), the implementation partner of UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Hyderabad.
The latest round of violence between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar’s Rakhine region erupted in June 2012 after the alleged rape and murder of a Buddhist girl by Muslim men. Experts said that this violence is the latest in a long history of state-sponsored repression against Rohingya Muslims. The minority was targeted in pogroms in 1978, stripped of their citizenship in 1982 and exposed to rampant human rights abuse, including slave labour and torture that led to a second exodus into Bangladesh in 1991-1992. Islam is practiced by 4% of Myanmar’s population.
According to the United Nations, clashes between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims have left 115,000 people displaced and several dead. The Rohingyas have been described by the UN as one of the world’s most persecuted minorities.
Activists said that UNHCR is also calling on countries to maintain open borders and ensure humane treatment of people seeking asylum from Myanmar. However, reluctance to accept refugees is growing, activists said.
“Until early last year, when their population was small, they were living with little trouble but as the numbers increased, police started frequenting their quarters and owners are now objecting to it and asking them to vacate,” said an activist adding that unless the issue is addressed by the international community, the exodus will not end.