From In­dia to Malaysia, Ro­hingya face hard­ship, un­cer­tainty

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS -

Re­cent vi­o­lence in Myan­mar has driven hun­dreds of thou­sands of Ro­hingya Mus­lims to seek refuge across the bor­der in Bangladesh. But Ro­hingya have been flee­ing per­se­cu­tion in Bud­dhist-ma­jor­ity Myan­mar for decades, and many who have made it to safety in other coun­tries still face a pre­car­i­ous ex­is­tence. Some are barred from work­ing or feel un­wel­come in un­fa­mil­iar lands. Still, many say they are re­lieved to be safe. Here are four coun­tries where Ro­hingya have es­tab­lished set­tle­ments in re­cent years:

There are some 56,000 Ro­hingya refugees reg­is­tered with the UN refugee agency in Malaysia, with an es­ti­mated 40,000 more whose sta­tus has yet to be as­sessed. Ob­tain­ing a UN refugee card gen­er­ally pro­tects peo­ple from ar­rest. They live on the fringe, un­able to legally work be­cause the coun­try - like Thai­land and In­done­sia - doesn’t rec­og­nize asy­lum seek­ers or refugees. Most scrape by on dirty or dan­ger­ous jobs that are shunned by most Malaysians. Most live in squalid shan­ty­town set­tle­ments, cramped low-cost flats or iso­lated houses where they work on con­struc­tion sites, restau­rants, fac­to­ries and plan­ta­tions.

They have no ac­cess to free health care and state-run schools. But for many, even liv­ing on the mar­gins of Malaysian so­ci­ety is an im­prove­ment from what they faced in Myan­mar. “Only my younger brother and one older brother are still alive” in Myan­mar, said Muham­mad Ayub. “The rest have been killed.” He has lived for four years in a small shanty set­tle­ment on the out­skirts of Kuala Lumpur that in­cludes a small mosque and a school teach­ing chil­dren the Qu­ran. He works odd jobs when he can get them, and said that if Myan­mar en­sures the safety of Ro­hingya, “I will surely go back.”

An­other Ro­hingya who has been in the South­east Asian coun­try for six years, Ibrahim Mo­hamad Hus­sein, said he wor­ried about the fate of his rel­a­tives who are among some 200 peo­ple still liv­ing in his vil­lage in Myan­mar. “They have in­creased the mil­i­tary pres­ence. No one is al­lowed in or out,” he said. They have “no food, no work. It’s hard for them.” Ear­lier this year, Malaysia started a pi­lot project to let Ro­hingya refugees with UNHCR cards work to pre­vent them from be­ing ex­ploited as cheap la­bor. But of­fi­cials said the re­sponse was poor, as most Ro­hingya did not want to leave their com­mu­ni­ties to work in plan­ta­tions or fac­to­ries far away.

Malaysia has been cau­tious of be­ing swamped by an in­flux of mi­grants. In 2015, boats car­ry­ing Ro­hingya and Bangladeshi refugees were pushed back into in­ter­na­tional waters by the Malaysian and Thai navies. But Malaysia and In­done­sia later took more than 1,600 of the refugees in. On Mon­day, Malaysian of­fi­cials said they were brac­ing for a pos­si­ble new in­flux of Ro­hingya amid the re­newed vi­o­lence in Myan­mar and pledged that any­one ar­riv­ing by boat would be treated hu­manely. New ar­rivals would be given wa­ter, food and med­i­cal aid, be­fore be­ing handed over to the Im­mi­gra­tion Depart­ment, said Malaysia Mar­itime En­force­ment Agency Di­rec­tor­Gen­eral Zulk­i­fli Abu Bakar.

Nepal

Only about 250 Ro­hingya live in Nepal since anti-Mus­lim ri­ots erupted in Myan­mar in 2012, ac­cord­ing to the UN refugee agency, which of­fers them ed­u­ca­tion and med­i­cal sup­port. The refugees live in a ram­shackle camp carved out on a slope on the out­skirts of the cap­i­tal, Kath­mandu. Their huts of tin, bam­boo and plas­tic sheets are con­nected by nar­row stone steps. There is also a large com­mu­nal hut, where chil­dren study the Qu­ran each day be­fore school and men gather to dis- cuss the lat­est news from Myan­mar re­ceived in phone calls from fam­ily.

“Just five days back, I heard my un­cle was hacked to death in the vil­lage,” one refugee, Rofique Aalam, said Sun­day. He has been in Nepal for two years. “For­tu­nately, I also heard that my fa­ther, mother, brother and sis­ter safely made it across to Bangladesh.” Most Ro­hingya in Nepal work as day la­bor­ers, ma­sons or plumbers. They don’t get paid reg­u­larly, and also have trou­ble with lan­guage bar­ri­ers, they said.

But they live in peace, and lo­cal busi­nesses and so­cial work­ers have do­nated tin sheets and bam­boo for them to build their makeshift homes. “We have not had any prob­lems with the lo­cal peo­ple or the author­i­ties. They are help­ful,” Aalam said. Still, many dream of go­ing back to Myan­mar. “No­body wants to live in a for­eign land far from ev­ery­thing we know,” said Mo­ham­mad Iyer, who fled four years ago with his five chil­dren and wife af­ter he was at­tacked.

Ro­hingya in In­dia face an un­cer­tain fu­ture, with the Hindu-na­tion­al­ist govern­ment threat­en­ing to de­port them back to Myan­mar. There are some 40,000 Ro­hingya liv­ing in clus­ters around the coun­try, in­clud­ing in the north­ern Jammu re­gion in Kash­mir, the cap­i­tal of New Delhi and the south­ern city of Hy­der­abad. But only 16,500 have been reg­is­tered with the UN refugee agency.

An­a­lysts say Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi is walk­ing a tightrope be­tween Bangladesh, an ally now be­sieged by hun­dreds of thou­sands of new Ro­hingya ar­rivals, and his Hindu-na­tion­al­ist power base at home. Modi made no men­tion of the Ro­hingya cri­sis dur­ing a visit last week to Myan­mar, but later said through the For­eign Af­fairs Min­istry that In­dia was con­cerned about the vi­o­lence and wanted Myan­mar to show re­straint. That de­layed re­sponse fol­lowed pointed ap­peals from Bangladlesh for help.

The In­dian govern­ment is also fac­ing a back­lash over its or­der last month for states to pre­pare to de­port il­le­gal im­mi­grants, in­clud­ing Ro­hingya. The Supreme Court is ex­pected to hear the govern­ment’s ar­gu­ments for the or­der at a court hear­ing on Mon­day. Even if Ro­hingya are al­lowed to stay in In­dia, their lives are far from se­cure. In Hindu-dom­i­nated north­ern city of Jammu, where more than 6,000 Ro­hingya live in squalid tem­po­rary shel­ters of burlap and plas­tic sheets, the city’s busi­ness com­mu­nity re­cently an­nounced a cam­paign to “iden­tify and kill” Ro­hingya, but then called it off af­ter the govern­ment an­nounced its de­por­ta­tion plans.

“They have no right to be in the re­gion,” said Rakesh Gupta, pres­i­dent of the Jammu Cham­ber of Com­merce and In­dus­try. More than 2,100 kilo­me­ters to the south in the city of Hy­der­abad, an­other 4,000 Ro­hingya live in con­stant fear of be­ing evicted from their makeshift shel­ters of tarp stretched across bam­boo poles and sent back to Myan­mar. “The talk of govern­ment send­ing us back is very fright­en­ing,” said Ro­hingya refugee Hameed Ul Haque. “I want to tell the govern­ment: In­stead of send­ing us back to Myan­mar to die, please kill us. At least we will get a proper burial here.”

Hy­der­abad’s Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion and some of its lead­ers have ral­lied to their cause and de­manded they be al­lowed to stay. Aid groups are help­ing the new ar­rivals to se­cure iden­tity cards from the UNHCR, a process which takes about three months. “There is no ques­tion of send­ing the refugees back with­out en­sur­ing their safety,” Te­lan­gana state’s Deputy Chief Min­is­ter Mo­hammed Mah­mood Ali told a rally Sun­day in Hy­der­abad. “This is not an is­sue of Mus­lims alone. This is a hu­man­i­tar­ian prob­lem.”

United States

The Ro­hingya who have made it as refugees to the United States find a warmer wel­come and a more sta­ble life. Only 54 ar­rived in 2010 and were re­set­tled. By 2016, that num­ber reached 2,276, ac­cord­ing to the State Depart­ment, though so far this year it was just 1,027. Hi­tay Lwin Oo, a Ro­hingya man who ar­rived in 2004, helps oth­ers as they come in to Utica, New York, where he owns the Golden Burma gro­cery store. While Ro­hingya can be os­tra­cized by other groups in their home coun­try, Lwin Oo said peo­ple from the many dif­fer­ent tribes of Myan­mar get along once they im­mi­grate to the US. “They are happy here, they have no dan­ger in their lives, no more trou­ble,” Lwin Oo said. His own son is a Ma­rine, his el­dest daugh­ter is study­ing to be a nurse, and his other two daugh­ters are still in school.

Start­ing from scratch can be hard, but non­profit agen­cies help fam­i­lies get apart­ments to rent. They usu­ally can find min­i­mum-wage jobs clean­ing of­fices, cut­ting grass at golf cour­ses, man­u­fac­tur­ing win­dows or do­ing other work. Their kids start school, and quickly learn English. “Ar­rivals in the United States have a much, much bet­ter sit­u­a­tion than any other part of the world,” Penn State pro­fes­sor Wakar Uddin, a Ro­hingya ad­vo­cate who ar­rived decades ago as a stu­dent.

“Th­ese peo­ple have suf­fered so much in their life ... they have never dreamed of this kind of life,” he said, not­ing that those re­set­tled in Springfield, Colorado, are happy to work phys­i­cally chal­leng­ing 12-hour shifts in meat fac­to­ries, earn­ing low wages. “They worked much harder in their coun­try and didn’t even have one meal a day.” In to­tal, the US has re­set­tled 7,362 Ro­hingya since 2010, with the largest group of about 1,000 in Chicago and oth­ers are in Cal­i­for­nia, In­di­ana, Ge­or­gia and other states. —AP

BALUKHALI: Ro­hingya Mus­lims, who crossed over from Myan­mar into Bangladesh, per­forms ablu­tion be­fore of­fer­ing af­ter­noon prayers at Balukhali refugee camp, Bangladesh yes­ter­day. — AP photos

BALUKHALI: A Ro­hingya Mus­lim boy, who crossed over from Myan­mar into Bangladesh, stands near a newly built shel­ter at Balukhali refugee camp, Bangladesh yes­ter­day. Re­cent vi­o­lence in Myan­mar has driven hun­dreds of thou­sands of Ro­hingya Mus­lims to seek refuge across the bor­der in Bangladesh.

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