Capital

Govt ups vigil amid Rohingya influx concerns

- CHANDAN KUMAR MANDAL, Kathmandu

Sep 12, 2017-When in 2012 the first wave of communal riots broke out in the western state of Rakhine in Myanmar, Abu Thaker, along with his 13-member family, was forced to flee from his homeland. After his weeklong arduous journey, he managed to reach an Indian city, which he says he can’t remember now.

“I spent a few days in Bangladesh and then crossed into India,” recalls Abu, who used to have a grocery store back in his village.

During his stay in India, an Indian man suggested that Abu enter Nepal. According to him “Nepal is safe refuge,” said Abu. Later, he and his family crossed into Nepal via Jogbani border point.

“People asked me to go to Nepal. First, I came to Katihar and then entered Biratnagar. Then I came here,” said Abu.

Rafeeq Aalam, 28, ran away from his country with his two children and wife. On the way, he hid in hills of Bangladesh for 12 days. “It was difficult time even after we reached Bangladesh. Locals were involved in looting people coming from Myanmar,” said Aalam, who was desperately looking for a safe place for himself and his family.

Two stranger countrymen--Abu and Rafeeq--found Nepal as their new home. Abu and Aalam are among 300 others Rohingya who have been coming to Nepal since 2012 bloodshed that killed hundreds and displaced thousands of Rohingya Muslims who are considered the world’s most persecuted minority.

They all admit that Nepal is “a safe refuge”.

But recent developments in Myanmar, with violence first erupting on August 25 after some Rohingya Muslims burnt down police posts, they are not only worried about their family and friends back in Myanmar but also are concerned about their stay in Kathmandu where they are not recognised as the refugees by the Nepal government for the fact that Nepal has not acceded to 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol. The status of Rohingya in Nepal is of “illegal migrants”.

Almost all Rohingya who are currently Kathmandu arrived here via India.

There are concerns that the Indian government’s recent decision to deport the Rohingya may result in their influx to Nepal.

The government, however, has said that there have been no recent arrivals of the Rohingya to Nepal, especially since the onset of recent violence. Around 300,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh in the last three weeks, according to various human rights organisations and the United Nations.

“We have Rohingya Muslims who entered Nepal in different times since 2012. However, no one has arrived here in recent days,” said Ram Krishna Subedi, spokesperson for the Ministry of Home Affairs.

According to Subedi, the government has put in place strict measures at border point with India to check such penetration.

“We have alerted our security agencies posted at border check points, and instructed chief district officers not to allow anyone without valid identification document,” said Subedi.    

The United Nations refugee agency in Nepal has been providing protection and assistance to some 660 refugees and asylum seekers from 10 different countries, majority of them from Pakistan, Myanmar, Afghanistan and Somalia.

So far, the UN agency has verified and furnished identity cards to 147 Rohingya while 100 others are waiting for verification.

Mohna Ansari, a member of the National Human Rights Commission, however, said that once such people get verified and receive identity cards, they don’t remain

“illegal migrants but become refugees”.

“They are illegal migrants as long as they don’t have identity cards. When they get registered, they get the status of urban refugees and asylum seekers,” said Ansari.

In absence of the domestic asylum legislation and not being signatory to refugee conventions, Nepal cannot deport Rohingya under the principle of non-refoulement, which bars countries from sending back refugees if they face threat to life in their homeland.

According to Ansari, this principle is part of the customary international law and all countries must abide by regardless whether they are signatory to the Refugee Convention. 

“I don’t think Nepal will send those Rohingya Muslims, who are already in Nepal, back. It won’t go that harsh on them. Even Nepali citizens were given asylum [in different countries] when we had an armed conflict here,” said Ansari.

Published: 12-09-2017 08:14

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