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HYDERABAD: The Union government’s affidavit on the Rohingyas’ presence in India made pointed mention of the ‘diversion of national resources’ to harbour some 43000 of them. However, as far as the 3,900 Rohingya refugees living in Hyderabad are concerned, no great support is rendered equivalent to what is given to Sri Lankan Tamil or Tibetan refugees for instance.
The Rohingya Muslims in Hyderabad live in slums in the Old City. They receive no official support for housing, education or rations. In fact, they pay rents ranging from Rs 600 to Rs 1,500 for small houses with shared bathrooms. Most of those who work do so as daily wage labourers.
Any support for the community comes from the local madrasas -- which provide them weekly supplies of groceries -- and the UNHCR, which supports the primary education of Rohingya children and provides them refugee cards which serve as a form of identity.
Neither the state nor the central government provides any financial aid. The community is not eligible for any welfare schemes or benefits that citizens are entitled to. "The Telangana government does not aid the Rohingyas in any way. Their survival is difficult and they live by their own hard work," said Dr Mazher Hussain, director of the Confederation of Voluntary Organisations (COVA), an NGO which works with UNHCR among the Rohingya community in Hyderabad.
"Some good people see our plight and give us supplies like rice, dal, vegetables and soap," said one refugee.
However, the little institutional support rendered to the Rohingyas is available only to those with UNHRC cards. On Wednesday, at the Balapur refugee settlement, two men from a local madrasa were collecting photocopies of the UNHCR card from a refugee before giving him a week’s supply of groceries.
However, getting a UNHCR card is not easy. Refugees applying for a card are subject to multiple rounds of scrutiny, and not all receive a card at the end of it. The authorities check the Country of Origin Information (COI), in this case Myanmar, and follow a lengthy process involving multiple interviews to ascertain past personal records.
"If any of the expatriates seek refugee status, we go through a COI and if the record shows that they have a criminal record, they will be excluded and will not be given refugee status," said sources in UNHCR. It takes a refugee three to six months to get a UNHCR card. The cards, which are valid for four years, need to be renewed at least six months prior to expiry.
"It is not an easy process to apply for a card. We have to go to the COVA office where we have to register. Then the request is sent to multiple processing centres before I get it back. I came here in 2013 and the card’s validity ends in October 2017. I have already applied for revalidation and I will be getting it soon," said a 70-year-old refugee.
Health benefits accessible
The only support -- indirect at best -- that the Rohingya refugees get from the government is in the form of medical treatment at government hospitals. A local government-operated clinic is accessed at a fee of Rs 20 for ailments. For major diseases, government hospitals are the the only recourse. Accessing the health report of an aged Rohingya with TB, New Indian Express found that the patient, being treated for a year now, has been given medicines for his treatment.
One Rohingya woman said: "Many a time when we go to government hospitals, we go with our Indian friends. It helps ease the registration hurdles. Otherwise, the local clinic is our first priority as they know the kind of circumstances we come from."
In October 2016, ICDS services were started for lactating mothers and pregnant women in the Balapur Rohingya community in the form of take-home rations. However, sources said the programme was halted recently.
There is a primary school run by Save the Children for Rohingyas in Balapur in Hyderabad. Save the Children also helps facilitate some students’ further education in state government schools. The other educational option are the madarsas. Those born in India are luckier as they can access documents to help them go to government schools, but even these are few.
What about crime and fake documents?
The government’s charge that some Rohingyas get fake Indian documents does hold some water though. "There have been three arrests till now of persons possessing fake Aadhaar cards. A few criminal cases have also been booked against Rohingyas. We are on constant vigil coordinating with the Intelligence Bureau, the Counter Terrorist department and UNHCR," said V Satyanarayana, deputy commissioner of police.
Mazher Hussain of the Confederation of Voluntary Agencies agrees that there are a few refugees who procure fake identity cards for a better future, but they are counselled against doing so. "Not all do such illegal activity, only a few do it. We counsel them. We urge the authorities to take action against agents who organize this illegal business," he said.
Conversations with members of the Rohingya community revealed that Indian agents arrange fake documents for about Rs 20,000. Given that the only identity they can possibly attain is a UNHCR card -- which does not ensure them employment or education -- some are pushed to try and get fake documents.
On the question of national security, DCP Satyanarayana said that “three terror modules were detected among the Rohingyas over a period of four years. However, he offered no details.