Of Rohingyas, Refugees and Rights

End 2016, there were 22.5 million refugees across the world, a serious crisis faced by humanity

Younis Ahmad Kaloo

You witness your loved ones being mercilessly killed in front of your eyes for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Your house is torched and razed to ground. You are denied access to basic amenities. You then fear for your life and set off for a safer place elsewhere or in a different country crossing jagged mountains and unfriendly waters in a crowded dinghy or in a makeshift boat, braving extreme weather, hunger, exhaustion, and trust strangers to help you by offering all you have. If you don’t make it, you either end up being trafficked, exploited, abused, detained or die. And if you make it, you are a refugee.

An aid distribution earlier this year in the Azzas area of northern Syria

Rajuma, a Rohingya Muslim, has witnessed all this. She recounted to The New York Time’s Jeffrey Gettleman in Bangladesh the greatest of her losses in life. A pack of soldiers stepped towards her as she was standing chest-high in the water, clutching her baby son, while her village burned behind her. She froze as the soldiers said, “You,” pointing at her. They said one more time and she squeezed her baby tighter. Moments later, the soldiers clubbed Rajuma in the face, snatched her screaming son out of her arms and hurled him into a fire. They then dragged her into a house and gang-raped her. As the day wore off, she was running through a field naked and covered in blood.

Apart from her infant son, Rajuma had also witnessed the killing of her mother, two sisters and younger brother.

Since the military crackdown began in August last year, more than 6,80,000 Rohingyas, one of the most persecuted ethnic groups in the world, have crossed the border to Bangladesh, where they fear that they will be forced to return to conditions that are inhuman. However, Bangladesh has delayed plans to repatriate Rohingya refugees, the process for which was due to begin on January 23, as a list verifying the details of people to be sent back is still incomplete.

India, neighbour to both Myanmar and Bangladesh, chose not to allow the Rohingyas to cross over to this side, suspecting they have terror links and instead sent tonnes of relief material to Bangladesh in response to the humanitarian crisis unfolding there.

“We have instructions to push back the Rohingyas to Bangladesh as they become a ‘liability’ once they are arrested,” Director General BSF K.K. Sharma said during a press conference ahead of BSF’s 52nd Raising Day.

“As far as my information goes, about 36,000 Rohingyas are there in this country at various places. This is one of those general observations and is based on inputs we received from our sister agencies (like the police and intelligence),” added Sharma.

He also said that the border guarding force had not come across any specific case where a Rohingya they caught possessed arms, ammunition or had terror connection. “However, the threat that they have some links with terror organisations is a very serious one and has been given by our sister agencies and I don’t doubt them,” he said.

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