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We came to India to save our lives: Rohingya Muslims

By Mohammed Siddique
August 15, 2012 17:55 IST
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Hyderabad has become the destination of Rohingya Muslims, fleeing the current wave of ethnic cleansing by the ruling Buddhist majority in Myanmar, especially in the Arakan region.

Walking through the hills and jungles facing great hardship, hunger, disease and death, how these refuge-seekers reached a city, thousands of miles away from their land, remain a mystery but it tells volume about what a human being, trying to save life from marauders can do. In the course they suffered major tragedies.

Haseena Begum from Mongdu is an example. She had fled with her husband and three children along with another group of people in to the jungle. But when she entered West Bengal after crossing the border, not knowing that she had entered in to another country, she had lost two of her children. One of them, Anwar Mustafa died of hunger.

"Only thing I remember is that we walked and walked in the day and in the night to get away from Myanmar. After the way they killed thousands of Rohingya Muslims, we could not have stayed and survived in that country", she said in Rohingya through an Urdu knowing interpreter.

Approximately 300 Rohingya Muslims from Arakan region, including men, women and children, have reached Hyderabad during the last few weeks and were provided shelter in the famous shrine of Syed Imam Ali Shah Quadri in Balapur in the outskirts of Hyderabad.

The local people including Hindus and Muslims and numerous organisations have provided them with food, clothing and shelters.

Each person and each family has its own tragic story to tell but one thing in common is that decades old persecution of Arakan Muslims by the Buddhist majority has now crossed all the limits as every day a fresh massacre was taking place, villages were being looted and burnt, women were being raped and people were being driven in to concentration camps.

"They tell us that as Muslims we had no rights because we were outsiders and we should either become Buddhist or leave the country," said Kifayatullah, a teacher.

"What has intensified the exodus in the recent times was the fresh crackdown by the authorities including the army and security forces against Muslims curbing all the religious freedom. They have burnt or closed down mosques, not allowing the call for prayers and even observing prayers and fasting," he said.

At individual level, even if one was allowed to be alive, finding square meal a day for the family was the biggest challenge.

"They have taken away all our lands and even cattle. There is night curfew. People are confined to their homes. If we need something we have to take permission from Buddhists," said Noor Mohammed, another refugee.

"When I tried to sell my cow, they seized it saying I don't have any right. When I built a house they burnt it down. My parents died in that. They have built a police station in that place", said Shabbir Ahmad, "We simply don't have any rights, even to be alive. We have come here only save our lives."

These people had to walk anywhere between 10 to 15 days to reach Indian border through Bangladesh. Many said that the Bangladesh authorities were not allowing them to stay as already there were 3 lakh Myanmar Muslim refugees in that country. Thailand and Malaysia too have a large number of them.

"After Bangladeshis forced us to leave, we continued our walk in the jungle to reach India," said Mohammed Aslam.

But why Hyderabad? They say that on reaching Kolkata they asked for a place which had a large Muslim population. "The people in Kolkata told us about Hyderabad and we boarded a train to reach this place and we have not been disappointed. Both Hindus and Muslims here have been very helpful,"said Shabbir Ahmad.

"We can not repay their debt," he added.

Another reason of their choosing Hyderabad could be the presence of about 30 Rohingya Muslim families in Hyderabad for the last two years.

Many newcomers knew these families. One of the old refugees is Mohammed Arafat who has now become an anchor for all the new arrivals as he can speak fluent Urdu.

"I am trying to help them as much as possible," says young Arafat who works as a labourer to feed his family. He enjoys the status of a refugee on the basis of a card issued by the United Nations High Commission of Refugees in New Delhi.

Many such families have moved from Hyderabad to Mumbai Delhi and other major cities.

But were they not stopped when crossing in to India illegally? "What border? We never realised that we have entered another country. Only when we talked to the people that we came to know that it was India," said Inayathullah, who came with his wife and three children.

While all of them speak only Rohingya a few educated can speak Urdu too. For the moment they were staying in sheds or ramshackle houses provided by the locals, either free or on a nominal rent.

Technically they are all illegal migrants but given the tremendous outpouring of sympathy for them because of the ethnic violence back in Myanmar, the authorities have also take a lenient view.

"The police is highly cooperative and helping them," said Mazhar Hussian, director, COVA, the implementation partner of UNHCR in Hyderabad. He was trying to help these people in getting the refugee status.

While these families have got a breather and a place to stay safely, they have an uncertain future. "We can make a living by working as laborers. Our worry is about the future of our children", said Noorussalam appealing to the world to ensure the safety and security of Muslims in Myanmar so one day they can return home.
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