Suffering privation, hunger and humiliation, some 300 Burmese have taken shelter in Hyderabad. The Postnoon team meets them.
Mohd Subhan and Srinivas Setty
They don’t know how many have left their native villages in the Arakan region of Western Burma where they have been living since the 8th Century. Some 300 Burmese who were driven out following ethnic strife in the past few years are given shelter in the Royal Colony’s Balapur Dargah where a businessman, Syed Basheerudddin, has made available to them a building. Some others are staying in Hafibaba Nagar in the Old City.
There are youngsters, children, women and seniors. The able-bodied work as labourers. With the help of one among them, Arafat, a bilingual, Postnoon gathered their traumatic experience. “We are rendered stateless in Myanmar. We Rohingyas have been targeted by the ethnic Buddhists who are supported by the government,” he explained.
“They have taken our property and driven us out. Many were killed. We were asked to convert or leave. We preferred to leave because atrocities would continue anyway,” he said, Nearly seven lakh Rohingyas have run away. Of them some 2.5 lakh have fled to Bangladesh. The flow, it seems, continues. Hyderabad is seemingly attracting more from across the border. Praveen Akthar who reached on Friday says that the situation is turning from bad to worse.
The 300-odd Burmese camping here have not come on a particular day. They came in groups of three or five or 10 in different periods. One Mohd Jaleel among them said through the interpreter that he was among a few hundred who left in June and they walked for eight days and reached West Bengal. Fifty of them were caught by the police while others escaped. “Some viewed us with sympathy and let us proceed,” he adds.
“It was ethnic cleansing,” they chorused. “We have no hope of returning,” said Mohd Subair. They said that initially they faced resistance but people now treat us with sympathy. The locals in Balapur now knows they have cheaper labour, said a resident Rahmatulla, “They work for Rs.200 a day while the locals demand Rs.350. ”Seventy of them have acquired refugee cards.”
Incidentally, one Saif Ali Khan reports from Chittagong, Bangladesh, that there is opposition to Rohingyas in Bangladesh, which stems from reports that some Rohingya bosses are drug runners.
A free-for-all City?
Tragic as is the tale of the Burmese who fled their homes to save their lives, their status in Hyderabad remains mysterious. Neither the police nor the collectorate says anything. While Postnoon’s query to commissioner of police Anurag Sharma drew a blank, the joint collector E Sridhar said his office had no information. More worrisome is that to the MLA, D Sudheer Reddy, their presence was news. “I have no information. If they are refugees we will treat them sympathetically on humanitarian ground. I am away at the moment but the first thing I will do when I am back is to visit these people and gather information.”
The issue puzzles one more when the DCP South Zone, Akun Sabharwal, says his office had information about 30 Burmese families who have taken shelter in Hafizbaba Nagar since three years! “They have refugee cards which are valid up to 2015-16.” Does this mean the refugee flow continues to happen without the knowledge of the authorities? The immigration officials have a figure of 300 foreigners living in the City whose visa had expired or are staying in hiding. But they are not from Myanmar.
Some officials in the district administration said on condition of anonymity that a ruling party in the City is sheltering them and it has kept this issue under wraps.
Burmese melting pot
Myanmar’s ethnic-religious internecine war is driving thousands out to the neighbouring India, China and Bangladesh. In focus is the triangular conflict between Kachen (mostly Christian), Rohingya (Muslims) and Rakhine (Buddhists). The flare up of ethnic strife last month in the western Arakan state has driven out another swathe of refugees to India and Bangladesh. Reports say some 7,000 have fled to China, India and Bangladesh, said Lahkang May Li Awng, director of a local NGO.
But UN observers say that though the Rohingyas are branded ethnic Bangladeshis, the refugees fleeing on boats and on foot were driven back by the BDR. Only India continues to absorb the fleeing Rohingyas..
Writing about the conflict on June 20, the World Refugee Day, Angeline Loh, executive committee member of Aliran, Justice and Freedom solidarity noted, “The international community should be aware that the ongoing denial of human rights in Myanmar and the apparent singling out of minorities may raise the possibility of the start of religious and ethnic cleansing, akin to what happened in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the 1990s and the tragedies in Rwanda and Burundi in Africa.”
“Allegations that they originated from Bangladesh appear to have no basis, and the Bangladesh government has refused to accept them even as refugees. China is pressing for the return of the refugees while India is silent.” PK Surendran
About the Author (Author Profile)
I have been working as a crime reporter in Hyderabad for the past 17 years. I was encouraged to be a journalist by my late father. As a journalist I try to do something unique for society, especially the poor who suffer the most.