Illegal, government tells Supreme Court; but Rohingya Muslims don't want to go back home

The Centre told the Supreme Court that the continuous stay of Rohingya Muslims has serious security ramifications, adding a frantic edge to the worries of the thousands who fled their homes.

Published: 18th September 2017 05:39 PM  |   Last Updated: 18th September 2017 06:00 PM   |  A+A-

Rohingyas are seen as a threat by the Centre. (File photo | AP)


NEW DELHI: The Centre told the Supreme Court today that the continuous stay of Rohingya Muslims has serious security ramifications, adding a frantic edge to the worries of the thousands who fled their homes in Myanmar to take refuge here.

They are the nowhere people -- described by the UN as the most persecuted minority in the world -- leading tenuous, uncertain lives in an alien country they are learning to call home.

And the thought that they may have to go back fills them with dread.

Even 12-year-old Noorul Islam, who talks with the wisdom of somebody much older when he says he would never want to go back to his homeland.

"I am happy here and I love going to school. I would never like to go back to my homeland because the military kills children there. I want to request the government not to send us back to Myanmar," he said.

Home is a small makeshift tent next to huge piles of garbage in south Delhi's Shaheen Bagh and school is the nearby government one in Jasola.

It was late one night in the summer of 2012 that his life changed for ever, sealing his family's fate as refugees.

Noorul was then just seven, but remembers in detail how militants attacked their home in Myanmar's Rakhine state. He also remembers their escape from death and the early days of struggle in Bangladesh from where they were turned out and made their way to India.

"We went hungry for days until we arrived in India and my father started selling fish to earn a living," he said, tears welling up at the memory.

Noorul's family is one of the 70 staying in the Shaheen Bagh camp. There are about 1,200 Rohingyas in the national capital, some in Shaheen Bagh and the others in a camp in Madanpur Khadar.

With hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas, mostly Muslims, being forced to flee from Rakhine this month and take refuge in Bangladesh, their plight has hit global headlines. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has said Rohingya Muslims face a catastrophic humanitarian situation.

Those in India face their own share of anxieties with the government threatening to deport them.

"I don't want to live as a refugee my whole life. But even if I think of going back to my village in Myanmar, those nightmarish memories of military attacks haunt me," said Sabikun Nahar, amongst those in the Shaheen Bagh camp.

"They burnt our house and forced us to follow Buddhism. We were even banned from going to the local mosque and we were so scared that we wouldn't sleep at night," she said.

The 21-year-old had left her village in 2012 and moved to Bangladesh with her relatives. She lived with her parents in the camp for a year but extreme poverty and no employment avenues drove her to India.

In 2013, Nahar found herself in Shaheen Bagh. She is now married to Mohammed Zubair, 30, a fellow refugee in the camp who works with an NGO in the city.

He earns about Rs 12,000 every month and the couple finds it difficult to make ends meet. But Nahar shudders at the thought of being sent back.

"The situation has worsened since 2012. I want the whole world to support us. I wanted to call my parents who are now in Bangladesh to Delhi but with the government here thinking of deporting us how will I call them," she asked.

Constant worry -- about their present, their future and the well-being of their families in Myanmar or in Bangladesh -- is the subtext of all their lives.

Abdul Rahim, 35, who runs a small grocery shop in the camp and earns about Rs 300 a day, has been desperately trying to get in touch with his brother back home.

"There are many relatives who are still stuck in the country. I am worried about my brother and his family because they haven't reached Bangladesh yet," said Abdul, who fled from Myanmar nine years ago.

He said he is shocked by the government's plan to deport them. "I would rather die here than go back to my country where people are facing atrocities and violence."

Hoping for some intervention, Shabeer, who works with the Rohingyas Human Rights Initiative (ROHRIngya), has written to External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj.

"We wrote a letter to the foreign minister on August 23 and are waiting for a reply. I want to ask the government here why they want to deport us," he said.

The government told Parliament on August 9 that more than 14,000 Rohingyas, registered with the UNHCR, are at present staying in India.

Today, the Centre told the Supreme Court that Rohingya Muslims are "illegal" immigrants in the country and their continuous stay had "serious national security ramifications".

According to the Centre's affidavit, filed in the apex court registry, the fundamental right to reside and settle in any part of the country is available to citizens only and illegal refugees cannot invoke the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court to enforce the right.


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