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Rohingya refugees in India dread Centre’s deportation order

ByAnuja Jaiswal
April 5, 2017

ALIGARH: Mohammad Bilal, 40, barely survived a harrowing journey by sea from Myanmarin 2012, when he escaped the alleged genocide of his people in Rakhine province. For the past five years, he has been living in Aligarh, which by now has 88 Rohingya families, comprising 320 people. Bilalrecently got married to Yasmeen, who fled Myanmar just 9 months ago.

Now they face the prospect of being deported back to a land where they are not welcome. "It was bloodshed happening there. Why else would we leave our homeland?" he told TOI.

Rohingyas are a minority ethnic group of Muslims, mainly from Rakhine province in northwestern Myanmar. Over the past few years, hundreds of thousands have fled genocide and ethnic cleansing in that country. Nearly 40,000 refugees are estimated to be living in India. The Centre has now decided to identify and deport those who have been living illegally here.

Bilal, who arrived in India in 2011 and works for an abattoir of the Mumbai-based Allana group, recounted his exodus from Myanmar. "We reached Bangladesh via the sea and then stopped at Kolkata, Varanasi, Saharanpur and Deoband before finally arriving here. In Deoband I was told I could get a job here," he said.

"Now I am not alone. My wife lives with me and she came to India with her mother, brother and a young nephew. I have now additional responsibilities and I am the only person who earns," Bilal said, adding that if deported, he wouldn't know what to do.

There are 88 Rohingya families in Aligarh, numbering 320 persons, according to official records. In 2015 there were 170 families, but demonetisation and the shutting down of several abattoirs in the recent past led to some of them leaving.

According to members of this community, almost every one of the Rohingya Muslims entered India at West Bengal. Armed with refugee cards issued by the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHRC), they claimed that they were eligible to live and work in India.

Many of the Rohingyas in Aligarh live in squalid localities like Bhojpura, Maqdoom Nagar and Haddi Godown.

Tayibba Khatoon, 50, has been living here with her son and daughter-in-law since 2012. She has three grandchildren who were born here and are "Indian citizens by birth". "How can the government separate us from them?" she asked, in tears.

Her 31-year-old son, Harris said, "We never seem to see good times. First I lost my job at a meat processing unit due to demonetisation, and became a scrap dealer. Now this. If we leave India, what do we do?"

Harris said with six mouths to feed on a monthly income of Rs 5,000 per month, it was already a hard life. "But we are still alive. Who knows whether we would live or be killed in Myanmar," he said.

More than 80% of the men work in abattoirs and earn between Rs 4,000 and Rs 7,000 per month. "We will be a people without a country if we are deported. The Myanmar government and the people will never take us back," said Bilal.

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Rohingya Exodus