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Myanmar refugees in Jammu rendered homeless

A family that belongs to the ethnic Rohingya community from Myanmar gathered at a makeshift camp in New Delhi on May 14, 2012. (Photo: Adnan Abidi/Reuters)
By Serohi Nandan/Shabir Ahmad
January 8, 2014

JAMMU -- “We had heard a great deal about India. We had heard that it is the abode of peace. We had heard the “sarkari log” (people at helm) are kind enough here unlike those in our native place. But living here for over one year we only feel that this land belongs to rich and influential only and for the poor the space has shrunk”.

These are the words of Yunis, a refugee from Mynamar whose dwelling was last evening demolished by the district administration forcing his family to spend the night under the open sky. 

At least 15 families of Myanmar refugees were forced to vacate the piece of land in Gharota village on the outskirts of Jammu, where they had erected makeshift tents. Though displaced families managed to reach their relatives in Bathindi area overnight after collecting their scattered belongings but are still in search of little space where they could at least sleep under the cover of polythene sheet.

In the absence of any shelter, these refugees could be seen shivering in cold. Even, their young children are half-naked and bare-footed with their mothers trying to keep them warm by holding them tight in their laps.

“See how our children are made to shiver in the biting cold here. We fail to understand what our sin is, being Muslims or being poor. See this child is not even wearing shoes. This has caused swelling in his feet,” said Abdul Gafoor, one of the refugees pointing towards his two-year old child as he fiddled with muddy small stone pebbles.

Recalling the scene of the demolition of their tents and dwellings yesterday, he said, “Policemen came and without any warning started demolishing our dwellings. They threw all our belongings. They refused to listen and behaved as if we were not human beings”.

He said that the behaviour of the policemen was so inhumane that we would never be able to erase it from our memories.

“A little before rendering us homeless they (Policemen) summoned us to police station only to be subjected to humiliation. They not only abused us but also made us to do many menial jobs. We have never been harassed and humiliated before like this. Our working tools are still lying in the police station,” said another refugee, Saber Ahmad.

He said that they had erected dwellings and tents on the piece of land after a local contractor claimed to be the owner of the same.

“We had been living there for more than a year and were working as labourers for the same contractor. We never knew it was the government land. Even if it was so, we were never going to grab that land. After being rendered homeless by Buddhists in our homeland, Myanmar, we had preferred to move to India unlike our other relatives who moved to other countries,” Saber said.

Deputy Commissioner, Jammu, Ajit Kumar Sahu said, “that was government land and we got the information that somebody is constructing illegal structure on it. We took immediate action and cleared the settlements. It is a clear cut case of illegal encroachment of government land. There is some big player behind the scene. They are using these people (refugees) for their own benefit. We have registered an FIR and started the investigation”.

The Deputy Commissioner said, “It is simple fact when you come to know that somebody is encroaching your property, you react promptly. This is natural. When there is a disaster, administration provides shelter to sufferers, but this is not the case. They should have thought before settling there”.

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Rohingya Exodus