At a time when the Narendra Modi government at the Centre has clearly instructed state governments to identify and deport illegal Rohingya immigrants, a full-fledged refugee camp has come up in West Bengal, barely 40 km from state capital, Kolkata.
Twenty-nine Rohingya refugees from Myanmar’s Rakhine state have found home at 16 makeshift rooms raised on a private plot of land in Harda village under South 24 Pargana’s Baruipur police station area for more than a month now.
While the Mamata Banerjee government has said all Rohingyas are not terrorists, security sources have said that infiltration by members of the Muslim community originally from Myanmar is rising in the state and could pose a security threat while hundreds try to sneak in.
India Today reporter visited the shelters that have been constructed by a little known NGO, Desh Bachao Samajik Committee, and is run by local resident, Hossain Gazi. There were rows of rooms built with bamboo and tin shades housing the immigrants.
While the men had gone out in search of work with the local villagers, the Rohingya women were at home with their children, some as young as two months old. Visibly apprehensive about any external attention, they were extremely reluctant to speak.
“Protesting the massacre of Rohingyas and to provide assistance to helpless, homeless refugees, please donate generously,” read a banner welcoming anyone arriving at the camp.
MAN BEHIND THE CAMP
Hossain Gazi, the man behind the camp, says he has taken the initiative on humanitarian grounds after he visited Bangladesh, and witnessed the plight of the Rohingya refugees.
“Last year I visited Cox’s Bazar where most of the Rohnigyas have been given shelter by the Bangladesh government. We were there to provide relief material from Kolkata as part of a social organisation. The situation is very grim and I felt we should do something for the refugees,” he said.
While Gazi could not explain how the refugees crossed into India from Bangladesh, he maintains that the adults at the camp have valid UNHCR cards and that the local police was well informed about the camp.
When contacted, superintendent of Baruipur police, Arijit Sinha, said, “We are aware of the shelter. The residents have all come here with valid UNHCR cards. They are UN recognised refugees and do not require documents like passport and visa.”
An MHA advisory on August 8 asks all states to “identify and deport the foreign nationals staying illegally in the country” as they “not only infringe on the rights of Indian citizens but some also pose grave security challenges”.
“Detection and deportation of such illegal immigrants from Rakhine State, also known as Rohingyas is a continuous process. There, it is essential to identify such illegal migrants/persons and also keep a watch on their activities for preventing any untoward incident that can take place,” the advisory stated, seeking prompt action from police authorities in each state.
While the MHA directive seeks close monitoring of the activities of such migrants, villagers say many of the male inmates at the camp have begun venturing out in search of jobs.
Some accompany locals who visit parts of the district or even Kolkata and work as daily wage labourers.
A UNHCR card accords refugee status and allows shelter in India, but there’s no permission to work. Those looking for work involving physical labour or menial jobs are able to earn some money.
“Initially, villagers were pooling resources to help them with food and essentials, but now we have asked them to find some job so that they can earn a living. Since they do not have any documents, it’s difficult to find jobs for them. So most of them are trying to fetch documents here,” says Subid Ali Mollah, a local villager.
“Our CM Mamata Banerjee has openly declared that Rohingya Muslims are our brothers and they can live here. So I request everyone to consider them as just human beings and not just as Muslims refugees,” Gazi said.