refugees in india

A people without home: Rohingya refugees in Jaipur told to leave by end of August

Their presence can lead to a security threat, says Sadar Police Station chief.

Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju’s statement that India “is not going to shoot” Rohingya refugees or “throw them in the ocean” has done little to relieve Syed Alam Khan’s anxieties. The 38-year-old is a part of the community of 80 Rohingya refugee families that live in Jaipur.

On August 15, Khan and a few other refugees were called to Sadar Police Station in the city and told to inform their community that they need to vacate their homes by the end of August.

“We were not given any reason,” said Khan. “But a general feeling of anxiety has gripped the entire community as news about the Indian government’s plans to deport Rohingyas had already spread.”

The Rohingya are a Bengali dialect-speaking Muslims who have for decades been fleeing persecution and a military crackdown in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar, where they are considered illegal migrants from Bangladesh. They are often referred to as the boat people because of the perilous voyages on overcrowded boats they undertake to escape persecution in their homeland. Rohingyas have settled as refugees in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Thailand and Malaysia, among other countries.

In India, the 14,000-odd Rohingya are registered as refugees by the United Nations, but they face hostility, from both society and the state. Only this month, Rijiju declared: “As far as we are concerned they are all illegal immigrants. They have no basis to live here. Anybody who is illegal migrant will be deported.”

When human rights groups condemned the government for seeking to deport the Rohingya, Rijiju slammed them on August 28: “India is the most humane nation in the world. Millions of refugees live in India. There is no other country in the world which hosts so many refugees. So, don’t demonise us, don’t give us lecture.”

Rijiju’s statement came amid reports that a renewed military crackdown in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, the home of the Rohingya, had left at least 110 people dead and thousands on the run.

In Delhi and Jammu, Rohingya refugees live in camps, but in Jaipur, they mainly live in homes rented in Hasanpura, Hathroi and Rajeev Nagar in the Sindhi Camp area. Many of the families have lived there for over a decade. Khan’s family is among them: they came to India via Bangladesh in 2002. Over the past five years, Khan said, most Rohingya men in Jaipur have taken loans to buy electronic rickshaws to earn a living. “Some also work as sanitation workers under municipal contractors,” he said.

A Rohingya family at a refugee camp in Delhi. Photo credit: HT
A Rohingya family at a refugee camp in Delhi. Photo credit: HT

Sudden crackdown

After the Sadar police told the community to leave, Khan and the others asked to meet the Station House officer. “When we finally got a meeting...we were accused of illegal encroachment,” said Noorul Amin, 38, another Rohingya. Amin said that the Rohingyas showed the police the refugee cards issued by the UN refugee agency but the officer told them these documents were not sufficient to allow them to stay in India legally.

Amin and Khan said the police officers told them the order to remove the community had come from the “higher authority”. But Jaipur Police Commissioner Sanjay Agarwal denied this was the case. “There is no such order,” Agarwal said. “We shall look into the matter. But the information that Rohingya Muslims are being asked to leave by Jaipur Police is incorrect.”

Sadar Station House Officer Radmal Singh admitted to having contacted the refugees and issuing the deadline, but insisted it was in a “different context”. Their presence “can lead to a security threat”, Singh explained. “They [the Rohingya] are foreign nationals and most of them are living in areas under the jurisdiction of our police station without having any police verification. We have also warned their landlords as it is a punishable offence under the law.”

Asked if the sudden police crackdown was linked to the central government’s plan to deport the Rohingya refugees, Singh dodged the question saying, “The Centre has also instructed us to get proper verification done in case of foreign nationals. We are doing our duty.”

The refugees, however, claimed that most landlords refuse to verify their tenancies. “We have somehow managed to set up a life here,” Khan said. “We cannot imagine what awaits us back home in Rakhine.”

Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at
Sponsored Content BY 

Do you really need to use that plastic straw?

The hazards of single-use plastic items, and what to use instead.

In June 2018, a distressed whale in Thailand made headlines around the world. After an autopsy it’s cause of death was determined to be more than 80 plastic bags it had ingested. The pictures caused great concern and brought into focus the urgency of the fight against single-use plastic. This term refers to use-and-throw plastic products that are designed for one-time use, such as takeaway spoons and forks, polythene bags styrofoam cups etc. In its report on single-use plastics, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has described how single-use plastics have a far-reaching impact in the environment.

Dense quantity of plastic litter means sights such as the distressed whale in Thailand aren’t uncommon. Plastic products have been found in the airways and stomachs of hundreds of marine and land species. Plastic bags, especially, confuse turtles who mistake them for jellyfish - their food. They can even exacerbate health crises, such as a malarial outbreak, by clogging sewers and creating ideal conditions for vector-borne diseases to thrive. In 1988, poor drainage made worse by plastic clogging contributed to the devastating Bangladesh floods in which two-thirds of the country was submerged.

Plastic litter can, moreover, cause physiological harm. Burning plastic waste for cooking fuel and in open air pits releases harmful gases in the air, contributing to poor air quality especially in poorer countries where these practices are common. But plastic needn’t even be burned to cause physiological harm. The toxic chemical additives in the manufacturing process of plastics remain in animal tissue, which is then consumed by humans. These highly toxic and carcinogenic substances (benzene, styrene etc.) can cause damage to nervous systems, lungs and reproductive organs.

The European Commission recently released a list of top 10 single-use plastic items that it plans to ban in the near future. These items are ubiquitous as trash across the world’s beaches, even the pristine, seemingly untouched ones. Some of them, such as styrofoam cups, take up to a 1,000 years to photodegrade (the breakdown of substances by exposure to UV and infrared rays from sunlight), disintegrating into microplastics, another health hazard.

More than 60 countries have introduced levies and bans to discourage the use of single-use plastics. Morocco and Rwanda have emerged as inspiring success stories of such policies. Rwanda, in fact, is now among the cleanest countries on Earth. In India, Maharashtra became the 18th state to effect a ban on disposable plastic items in March 2018. Now India plans to replicate the decision on a national level, aiming to eliminate single-use plastics entirely by 2022. While government efforts are important to encourage industries to redesign their production methods, individuals too can take steps to minimise their consumption, and littering, of single-use plastics. Most of these actions are low on effort, but can cause a significant reduction in plastic waste in the environment, if the return of Olive Ridley turtles to a Mumbai beach are anything to go by.

To know more about the single-use plastics problem, visit Planet or Plastic portal, National Geographic’s multi-year effort to raise awareness about the global plastic trash crisis. From microplastics in cosmetics to haunting art on plastic pollution, Planet or Plastic is a comprehensive resource on the problem. You can take the pledge to reduce your use of single-use plastics, here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of National Geographic, and not by the Scroll editorial team.