It has been almost three years since the Myanmarese settlement took refuge in Hyderabad. They are struggling hard to get jobs, learn the language and to even get food to be alive. The persecution of Rohingya Muslims by Myanmarese Buddhists are known to the world. After the communal violence increased in Myanmar, many Muslims were killed and made to leave the country. They were denied food, medicine, education and other basic amenities. Many Myanmarese Buddhists do not consider them to be citizens of Myanmar. Though they have settled in Myanmar for ages now, they have been separated from their country. Hence, when the violence increased, they had to flee from their own country to various other countries.
A major chunk of people who lost their houses, family members and livelihoods, shifted to different parts of India and other countries. In Hyderabad, they have taken refuge at Barkas, “We left our country for freedom. We were not allowed to practice our religion, pray at the mosque or even educate our children. I am happy that I can practice my religion here in India without the fear of being killed” says Sultan Mohammed, aged 60. He talks firmly and introduces his son who has a disability and half of his existing family; others got killed in the deadly massacre.
The refugee’s settlement is in the outskirts of the old city. They have five camps in Balapur. Two of the camps are rent-free set by locals, whereas others are paid slums in which people live in terrible conditions. “We pay Rs. 1000 per month for this shed. We don’t have proper electricity and water. The water supply comes only for 15 minutes in a day. We only have two toilets which are shared with the entire camp” says Mohammed Noor who represents camp 2, where 45 families reside.
Most of the people who have language barriers are facing difficulties in finding jobs. The men do odd jobs like scrap collection, construction work and security for their day-to-day livelihood. Tufail Ahmed, who looks quite younger than his age (35), says,“Locals do not give us jobs. I work as a construction labourer for about 15 days in a month. Sometimes they pay me less than other labourers or do not pay me at all. I have to accept all their terms and conditions. If I do not accept, how will I buy food for my children?”
Widows are in large numbers across these camps. Some of them have remarried in their own community to start a new life. They are strictly warned by the police not to marry the locals. They only have limited options in their ghetto or they have to lead a lonely and devastating life. “My husband was chopped in Myanmar in front of my eyes. They also cut my daughter’s stomach. She cannot walk straight now and she has lost her voice after the incident. With a lot of difficulties I have reached here and I am struggling to feed my three children,” says Rani Begum with her broken Hindi, while in her arms, all her children play around. She cleans utensils and washes clothes in nearby houses to earn for her family.
The children in the camp go to neighbouring government schools. Most of the families send their children to school and they are adapting to the language spoken here. Sana Khatoon is 10-year-old who studies in Class 2. She has an innocent smile and a strong determination for what she wants to become after growing up, “I want to become a doctor and help all the diseased ones here.”
Rafiq Mohammed, who has a disability caused by the riots back home, faces the physical inability to go out and work. He and his family depend on his younger brother who works as a construction wage earner. “At times when my brother doesn’t get work, we have to beg other people from the community for rice and dal, which is the reason I have given my 4-year-old son to a local family in Sayedabad area who is taking care of him and sending him to school.”
The Hyderabad-based Confederation of Voluntary Organisations (COVA), an NGO at the forefront of Rohingya rehabilitation in Hyderabad says that many asylum seekers have registered with them so far and many more are likely to come. COVA monitors the refugees in getting them the UNHCR card. They also coordinate with the police to give them records about the refugees. The refugee card comes in slots after the interview has been taken and it has a validity of two years. “We are interviewed at the UNHCR office for the refugee card. They cross-examine and question us to check if we actually belong from there” said Mohammed Rafiq.
Image Credit: Shahamat Hussain