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Over 200 Rohingya settle 'illegally' in Kathmandu, Nepal

By Kamal Pariyar
June 4, 2016

Government says they are illegal migrants 

KATHMANDU: Abdul Jalil, 77, has spent almost his whole life in search of a real home where he can live peacefully with his family. A Rohingya Muslim from western Myanmar, he entered Nepal in 2013. 

Starting his journey in 2012, he travelled to Bangladesh, where he was forced to leave the country, and reached Nepal via India. 

Later on, in 2014, his family followed him to Nepal. He and his family were not recognized as citizens in Myanmar, nor granted basic civil rights.

Their stay in Nepal has so far been relatively 'luxurious and peaceful.' However, as members of one of the most persecuted minorities in the world, they fear for their future. 

“I want to work on my farm, and meet my relatives back home,” Jalil said with a faint smile, adding,“But there is no one to assure our safety and so thinking about returning home is pointless.”

Surrounded by his three grandchildren in a newly constructed zinc roof hut in Lasuntar, 6.7 km from Kathmandu, the septuagenarian said, “Nepal is our home now and I wish to see my children fight for their rights right from here.” 

The Rohingya community, along with a dozen urban refugees based in Kathmandu Valley, staged a sit-in protest last October against the decision of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to cut down their monthly allowance. 

The refugees were receiving Rs 5,750 ( for each male), Rs 3,330 (female) and Rs 2,700 (child) per month until December 2015. Since June 2015, UNHCR had cut the allowances by 25 percent. 

However, the vulnerable groups--elderly, sick, women, children--still receive some form of support from the agency as a special financial allowance on a specific need basis.

According to Deepesh Das Shretha, external affairs assistant at UNHCR, the organization ensures that all refugees have access to free primary medical care and education up to grade 10. 

UNHCR also provides vocational training opportunities and language classes in Nepali for the adults. 

“UNHCR Nepal has faced a funding shortage as resources are being diverted to major emergency operations in other parts of the world and the urban refugees struggle to meet their daily needs,” Shrestha said.

Saiyad Hussain, 32, another refugee from Myanmar, has a similar story. He faced homelessness, torture, threats and harassment back home, he said.

"UNHCR has let us down, cutting off the international right of refugees to receive stipends,” said Saiyad Hussain, a 32-year-old father of three. "We have no work and no source of income and it has become very hard for us to live without the UNHCR support." 

Over 200 Rohingya building huts in Kathmandu 

The urban refugees from the Rohingya community have started building huts on their own around Kapan in Kathmandu, leasing private land since the past few weeks. At Lasunta, also in Kathmandu, they have agreed to pay Rs 75,000 per year for 2.5 ropani of land. Alost 50 families have so far built 23 huts in Lasuntar and 20 huts in Chunikhel. 

Normally, refugees live in camps and urban refugees in rented rooms.

Their new homes are flimsy structures made of bamboo, with corrugated zinc roofs, plastic walls and tarpaulin covered muddy floors. 

“As renting living quarters is expensive, we have no choice other than build our own homes," said Salauddin Khan, 29, while erecting another hut meant for children. 

The government of Nepal, which is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees, refuses to identify the Rohingya as refugees and considers them 'illegal migrants'. 

"It's illegal for illegal migrants to build settlements in Nepal,” said Kosha Hari Niraula, who heads the local administration department that deals with refugees at the Ministry of Home Affairs.

Although over 200 Rohingya are estimated to be settling in Nepal, only 147 are registered as urban refugees.

'525 urban refugees in Nepal'

According to the UNHCR office in Nepal, about 525 urban refugees or 'illegal migrants' from different countries--Pakistan, Myanmar, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Somaliya, Iran, Iraq and Domocratic Republic of Congo-currently reside in Nepal. 

The government only recognizes refugees from Bhutan and Tibet, Under-Secretary Niraula said. “We do not have legal liability for ensuring their resettlement or repatriation. We are only concerned with them on humanitarian grounds.” 

The Ministry of Home Affairs says they have 'no legal outline' for dealing with urban refugees in Nepal. 

Ratification of the Refugee Convention and formulation of a domestic legal framework on refugees would be helpful in dealing with refugee issues in a systematic and consistent manner, according to the UNHCR office in Nepal. 

Over 30,000 refugees in Nepal

Of the total refugee population in Nepal, Bhutanese refugees still in Nepal are estimated to number over 15,500, and the Tibetan refugees number 15,000.

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