Hunger, disease and despair marks Rohingyas lives during lockdown in Hyderabad

The Rohingyas in Old Hyderabad have lost employment and their savings due to lockdown

Till the other day, it was the fear of being deported back to the strife-torn Myanmar that was haunting the thousands of Muslims settled in the old city of Hyderabad, following the talk of enforcement of National Register of Citizens (NRC) across the country in the name of weeding out illegal immigrants.

Now, their concern has shifted to surviving the national lockdown triggered by Covid-19 pandemic.

Living in very sub-human conditions in make-shift huts made of tin sheets and thatched roofs that are covered with polythene sheets in the slums of Balapur, Hafeez Baba Nagar, Pahadishareef, Kesavagiri and Chandrayangutta, nearly 6,000 Rohingya Muslims have been leading pathetic lives for the last seven to eight years, with the fear of being deported to their country constantly haunting them.

“Forget about going back to our country, now, our worry is how to feed our families. There is no work to do, as everything is closed. We cannot even step out of our settlement because the entire area has been barricaded by the police. Whatever little money we had earned last month, has now been exhausted,” lamented 42-year old Fareed Alam, father of three daughters and a son from Hafeez Baba Nagar.

Most of the Rohingyas, who had migrated to Hyderabad in groups between 2011-13, have been eking out their living as rag pickers, rod bending workers, cleaners at local Irani cafes, bike mechanics, construction workers, and labourers in small industries.

Some of them, like the 36-year old Noor Basha, travel to far off districts to earn a living for the family. “I had been working in a stone crushing plant at Velgatur in Jagityal district about three months ago and my family is stuck up in the settlement near Balapur in Hyderabad. Now, I have no work here as the plant is closed; nor can I go back to Hyderabad, about 230 km away from this place due to lockdown and stringent police restrictions,” Basha said.

While he is surviving on the food donated by some locals in Jagitial, his family, comprising his wife and two children, is virtually starving. “My 12-year old son is suffering from an eye infection and I have no money to send to the family for his treatment. He, too, is not in a position to go the hospital because of the lockdown,” Basha said.

Thanks to some NGO volunteers, these Rohingyas could get some groceries a few days ago. “We have distributed packets comprising rice, edible oil, wheat flour, dal, chilli, onion, salt and sugar, apart from hygiene kits comprising sanitisers, hand washes and masks to these families in the first week of April. We hope that would suffice for a month,” said Vikas Gora, deputy director of Save the Children, a popular NGO, which has been working in collaboration with United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) for the rehabilitation of Rohingya refugees.

“In any conflict or disease outbreak, children and women are the worst victims and our effort is to reach out to them to ensure food security and child protection. We have also been conducting COVID awareness campaigns amongst the refugees using audio and video messages,” Gora said.

However, there are several Rohingyas, who say they haven’t got any help even from the NGO activists. “Most of the distribution of food and other essentials is being done for the people on the roadside. We are in an interior location and nobody has come to our settlements because of the restrictions,” a Rohingya Muslim, who preferred anonymity, complained.

Gora, however, said his NGO had reached out to the maximum number of families and done door-to-door distribution of groceries and other material. “We shall cover all families in the coming days,” he said.

While the Rohingyas have still been facing the stigma of “being outsiders” settled in India, the episode of last month’s Tablighi Jamaat congregation at Nizamuddin has cast a shadow on them as the police and health department authorities started probing whether any of these Rohingyas had attended the Jamaat.

“Enquiries revealed that only four Rohingyas attended the Jamaat conference and they along with their close contacts had been kept at a quarantine centre at Rajendranagar on the city outskirts. We shall not allow them into the settlement again, unless they produce a certificate that they got completely cured,” Fareed Alam said.

The Hyderabad police, too, are extending all possible help to the NGOs to carry the relief material to the Rohingya camps. “We appreciate the support of the Telangana government and various departments in respecting the rights of the refugees,” Gora said.

Source: Hindustan Times


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