The Rohingya Muslims, who have fled Myanmar and are now staying in Chennai, hope that once situation normalizes they can return to their homeland
Rohingya Muslims Mohammed Yusuf and Noor Bano along with their newborn daughter Noor Fatimah fled to India from Myanmar’s Rakhine state in 2012. Through Bangladesh, they arrived in Kolkata from where they boarded a train that brought them to Chennai.
“After fleeing from our home, we reached Bangladesh. With the help of an agent, we came to Kolkata. He asked us to board the train and then he absconded,” says Yusuf who had paid the agent 1 lakh Myanmar kyat, which equals Rs 4,698. This was only a part payment. On reaching Chennai, he had to pay another Rs 20,000 to a person who gave him shelter.
These agents give false hope to the refugees, guaranteeing them safe and decent settlement. The organised racket of human trafficking in the case of Rohingyas seems to be strengthening over the years. It is understood that earlier Rohingyas mostly came to India on their own without the help of agents.
However, an UNHCR spokesperson says that whenever the Rohingyas crossed borders, they needed help of someone and mostly the people from Bangladesh were the ones who helped them.
“UNHCR values the efforts and shares the legitimate interest of states in combating trafficking in persons and specifically draws attention to the humanitarian consequences of this crime. UNHCR calls for a human rights-based approach to human trafficking which goes beyond identifying and prosecuting the perpetrators, and includes measures to address the protection needs of victims or individuals who have been or are at risk of being trafficked,” says the spokesperson.
For Yusuf and his family, the ordeal did not end on reaching Chennai. Not knowing the language, they had to face a lot of difficulties. Yusuf used to communicate with the locals using hand gestures and facial expressions. “Many a times there was lot of confusion and I would be left feeling frustrated and lost,” says Yusuf.
With the help of a local, Yusuf managed to get shelter in Manali locality. But, there he had a tough time.
“Because of some misunderstanding due to language barrier, there was a minor clash between my neighbour and me. My neighbour filed a police complaint. In the wee hours, the police took my daughter and wife and also two of my relatives in the jeep and left them at Covelong beach in Chennai,” says Yusuf.
With the help of UNHCR, Yusuf was able to get his family back.
Thereafter, Yusuf, his family and a few other Rohingya Muslim refugees were moved to a community hall in Kelambakkam, a suburb of Chennai, where they stayed for six months. And finally, they were moved to cyclone relief centre situated in the same locality.
Since then they are living in a dull yellow coloured one-storey building, which is presently home to 19 families. As per UNCHR records, the building houses 94 people of whom 52 are children.
The building doesn’t have rooms, so each family has made partitions using sarees and clothes stitched together.
Imtiaz Bibi, 20, says that for 19 families it is getting very difficult to adjust in this building as it is cramped.
Yet, more Rohingyas are coming to Chennai. Rafiq Alam, 13, came here barely two months back.
Most of the men of this refugee community are working as helpers at road side hotels, cleaners in shops or as rag pickers, and are able to earn somewhere between Rs 100 and Rs 400 per day.
Over the period of time, these Rohingyas have broken the language barrier. Constant interaction with the natives has helped them learn the language.
As Rohingya women don’t come out of the house much, only a few of them have learnt Tamil. However, there are women like Zeenath who have picked up the language as she takes her son to a government school located less than a kilometer from the settlement.
The refugees like Yusuf are hopeful that one day they will be able to go back to their home in Myanmar. His parents are in Maungdaw town where four shops owned by him were burnt down. Yet, Yusuf is waiting for the day when he would go back with his family to his home and live with his parents.