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Rohingya Boatpeople Languish in Indian Jail

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 Download Two hundred men belonging to Burma's minority Rohingya ethnic group have spent more than two years in stateless limbo in an Indian jail.

India rescued several boatloads of them at sea in late 2008 and early 2009, after, they said, the Thai military had removed the engine from their boats and towed them out to the ocean and abandoned them.

Shaikh Azizur Rahman managed to speak on the phone with one of the men, Ali, still inside the Indian prison in Port Blair.


“I am a Rohingya from Arakan in Myanmar and in 1999 I crossed over to Bangladesh. In Myanmar we faced routine torture by the Myanmese military. They forced us to do manual labour. Often we were not paid for our labour. Our life was full of miseries. So, with my parents, relatives and other neighbors we left Myanmar quietly."

Rohingyas are a Muslim minority with historical roots in Burma. However, they were stripped of their citizenship in 1982. Rohingyas say, they are systematically and violently oppressed by Burmese security forces.

Ali says, he had no choice but to flee to Bangladesh. But there too, Rohingyas face an uncertain future.

The United Nations estimates that around 200 thousand Rohingyas live amongst the local people, while another 30 thousand are living in three refugee camps.

The Rohingyas are denied both immigration rights and formal refugee status in Bangladesh.

Increasingly desperate Rohingyas like Ali have attempted dangerous illegal boat journeys to southern Thailand and Malaysia, in hopes of finding work, and better shelter.

"On way to Malaysia in Thailand we were caught by Thai soldiers. They detained us for 10 - 12 days before casting us adrift in the middle of the sea on engineless boats. Without food and water we drifted for 14 days, most of us died. There were 412 men on one boat which was towed out to the sea by the Thai Navy. Three hundred and five on our boat died in the sea. Only 107 among us reached Andaman Islands.”

They were then put into Indian jails.

All of the surviving boatpeople claim that they are from Bangladesh.

However, only half of them have been repatriated to Bangladesh. The remaining more than 200 detainees are still in jail, two years after they were rescued.

Ali is desperate to return to Bangladesh.

“As asked by Bangladeshi authorities, my relatives in Bangladesh submitted all necessary documents which prove that I am a legal resident of Bangladesh. Yet I don’t know why Bangladesh government has refused to let me return to my family in Bangladesh. My wife and children are crying to get me back. Every day I cry and seek to return to my home in Bangladesh. No one is listening to me. I think I have to keep crying until I die in this jail.”

Since 1992 Bangladesh has barred UNHCR from registering any more Rohingya refugees.

So any Rohingya who arrived in Bangladesh in the past 19 years is labeled as an illegal immigrant.

Speaking from Bangladesh, Rohingya community leader Salim Ullah said leaders there are reluctant to grant the group refugee status.

“The present Rohingya population and continuous inflow of the refugees is a big burden for a poor country like Banglaesh. If Bangladesh begins to extend help to these refugees, more Rohingyas will come over here from across the border because they live in terrible condition in Burma. Fearing such new influx Bangladesh has not been eager to help these refugees here. However if Bangladesh takes a proactive role and involves influential international communities in dealing with this Rohingya issue our problems can be solved.”     

He says, the solution is, to put pressure on Burma to respect the rights of Rohingyas.

“Before 2010 election during his campaign present President of Burma Thein Sein promised that he would improve the situation for the Rohingyas soon. But after election he failed to keep his promise and the reality is that the ground situation for us has turned from bad to worse. If Myanmar restores the basic rights of citizenship to the Rohingyas and stops human rights violation, all refugees from Bangladesh and other countries would return to Myanmar- it’s out motherland.”

But returning to Burma now is out of the question for Ali. His wife and five children are in Bangladesh, and that’s his home now.

“Bangladesh is a Muslim country. We are also poor Muslims in dire miseries. Bangladesh should be sympathetic to us, allow us return to Bangladesh where we have our families waiting for us. We live in villages and don’t burden the mainstream society. We do not seek any government job in Bangladesh. We shall work as day wage labourers and run our families shall not trouble Bangladesh any way. We hope Bangladesh government will help end our miseries in Indian jail.”

Ali’s wife, speaking from Bangladesh, echoes his cries.

“In the absence of my husband with our five children I have fallen into dire miseries. For two and a half years life has been so miserable. I am working as a maid servant at the houses of different neighbours. Sometimes I go out for begging. When children fall sick and I need more money for doctor I face even more trouble. To pay for family’s expenses and other debts I had to sell away our house recently. Now we are living in very small one-room hut. Please help my husband return to us.”

Despite Ali’s horrific story, other Rohingyas are still attempting dangerous boat journeys in the hope of reaching Malaysia.

آخری تازہ کاری ( پیر, 13 جون 2011 15:28 )  

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