Separated by violence and tested by time, Rohingya in Nepal ache for home

KATHMANDU (The Kathmandu Post/ANN) - The exodus from Myanmar’s Rakhine state began on August 25 after Rohingya insurgents attacked police posts.

Sayed ul-Haq, a Rohingya man in his 20s, looks at his mobile phone every now and then. What he wants is updates on the situation in Myanmar from where, according to various humanitarian agencies including the United Nations, around 290,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled violence in the northern Rakhine state by crossing into Bangladesh in the last two weeks.“The maximum I can do here is just check updates on the situation,” said Sayed who came to Nepal two years ago. Sayed is among the 300 Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar, who have been living in crammed makeshift shelters made up of zinc sheets for the last two years in the Kapan area of Kathmandu.

The exodus from Myanmar’s Rakhine state began on August 25 after Rohingya insurgents attacked police posts. The military responded with what it called “clearance operations” to root out any fighters it said might be hiding in villages of Rakhine state.

The Myanmar government says nearly 400 people have been killed in fighting it blames on insurgents, though Rohingya say Myanmar troops and Buddhist mobs attacked them and destroyed their villages. The AFP news agency quoted a senior UN official as saying on Friday: More than 1,000 may have been killed.

Sayed had left 13 family members back in Myanmar, where the Rohingya are not considered one of the country’s 135 official ethnic groups, when he fled to Nepal. With citizenship denied since 1982, the Rohingya have been effectively rendered stateless and considered the “world’s most persecuted minority”

After the recent violence flared up in Myanmar, the Rohingya living in Kapan have grown extremely anxious. “I lost four brothers, five sisters and my parents when we fled,” said Sayed. “We survived somehow. But we do not know the condition of our families and friends,” said Sayed.  “Since the crackdown started, everyone here is worried and praying for the safety of our people. Women, the elderly and children have been crying,” said Abu Thaker, showing some pictures posted on Facebook of children and elderly people being attacked.

While they are worried about their family members, they say they have found a safe refuge in Nepal. Though they are living in squalid conditions with no toilet and no safe drinking water, they say “we at least feel safe in Nepal where we are not discriminated against on the basis of our origin or the religion our follow”. “We feel protected here,” they say. “But who does not want to go back to one’s own country where we have families, land and property.”

Most of them are struggling to get jobs . Some are involved in masonry and other informal work.  

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Kathmandu has verified 147 Rohingya in Nepal. Around 100 others have applied for asylum.

According to the UNHCR fact-sheet of March 2016, the agency provides protection and assistance to 538 urban asylum seekers and refugees in Nepal from nine different countries including the Rohingya from Myanmar.

However, as Nepal has not agreed to the 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol, these people are “illegal migrants”, and  the government of Nepal does not recognise them as refugees. “We are struggling to pay for food. Job is scarce here,” said Abu. “How will we get work here in Nepal from where thousands of youths are going abroad in search of jobs?” added Abu, who seems to have gathered a fair amount of knowledge about the employment situation here as well.