For about 40,000 of the 700,000 Rohingya refugees who have fled persecution and military crackdowns in Myanmar, Muslim settlements in New Delhi became a home. Individuals and families were granted identity cards and access to temporary shelters by the Foreigner Regional Registration Office.
Early in the morning on April 15, however, a fire engulfed one of the settlements, forcing its 226 residents to flee and destroying all of the settlers’ possessions. Much of the media coverage of the incident was restricted to local news outlets, including The Times of India and New Delhi-based NDTV.
Delhi: Rohingya refugees, living in a slum near Kalindi Kunj Metro Station, shifted to the nearby ground after the slum caught fire last morning, say 'Everything we had was gutted in the fire. We're being provided food & clothes by locals, a lot of help was provided by police'. pic.twitter.com/U7dSlf24lm
— ANI (@ANI) April 15, 2018
The limited international coverage of the incident has sparked local advocates to criticize international organizations and media outlets for devoting little attention to what UNICEF recently called one of the fastest growing humanitarian crises in the world.
Ifsha Zehra, a local advocate and Young India Fellow studying in New Delhi, said that refugees in India, Bangladesh, and surrounding countries continue to face significant challenges long after they began fleeing Myanmar in August.
“The ones that I met had come to India for a better life at a great risk to their life,” Zehra said in an interview with MediaFile. “Their settlements have even been subjected to scrutiny and attacks—physical and verbal—due to their Muslim identities and the extreme Islamophobia in the country.”
While the source of the fire in New Delhi has not been officially confirmed by government officials, Indian police are investigating a complaint after Manish Chandela, a local youth leader for the Bharatiya Janata Party (the Indian People’s Party), allegedly admitted to starting the fire on his Twitter account.
According to The Times of India, Chandela responded to a report on the fire by tweeting, “well done by our heroes.” In a later tweet, he said, “yes we burnt the houses of the Rohingya terrorists.”
In recent years, the Muslim settlements in northern India have experienced tensions with the Indian population and pushback from the Indian government. According to Reuters, the recent fire in New Delhi is the fourth fire in the settlement in the past six years. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken a tough stance on Rohingya settlers in the region since he took power in 2014, saying the settlers pose a security threat and should be deported.
Conditions have worsened for the Rohingya population in India and other countries since claims of ethnic cleansing in Myanmar arose in August. On Sunday, a United Nations Security Council delegation visited various refugee camps in Bangladesh, where they were met with protests from hundreds of refugees and a list of demands, which included an international security presence in Myanmar’s Rakhine State and restoration of citizenship in Myanmar.
According to Al Jazeera, the United Nations and other aid agencies are saying that settlements in Bangladesh are among the largest refugee camps in the world.
In November, the Security Council released a formal statement calling for Myanmar to stop using any “further excessive use of military force” and to allow “freedom of movement, equal access to basic services, and equal access to full citizenship for all.” However, according to Reuters, some diplomats say that Russia and China, both allies of Myanmar, will likely resist any stronger actions, including sanctions or referral to the International Criminal Court.
For Zehra, one of the solutions to securing rights for those in the Rohingya settlements is investing in their desire to increase access to education. She has recently begun collaborating with young Rohingya students collecting funds for a Rohingya literacy program.
In order to increase international awareness and assist those in the Rohingya refugee communities, Zehra said that international organizations should devote more time and focus to the crisis.
“I firmly believe that to start with they should be given proper documentation so they avail basic rights like education and jobs,” Zehra said. “Bringing out personal narratives and stories of oppression to politically charged discussions in the international milieu is something I believe needs to be done as well.”