Urban refugees’ fate hangs in balance

  • rohingya in nepal
- DEWAN RAI, Kathmandu

Nov 19, 2015-

Twenty-three-year-old Hasan Hasan is an ethnic Rohingya Muslim from Myanmar. He fled his country in 2012 following pogroms initiated by his homeland’s Buddhist majority. In search of a better life, he entered Bangladesh and then landed in Nepal. 

“I was just running until I arrived here,” Hasan recalls his arrival in Nepal three years ago. He has not seen his parents since. “If only we had a phone in our neighbourhood, I could have asked about my parents,” he says. Hasan is one of the 134 Rohingya in Nepal. Hundreds of Rohingya had fled the country and sought refuge in neighbouring Bangladesh and India following the communal violence in Myanmar’s western state of Rakhine. He says he remembers someone telling him that the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Nepal would help him go back to his country or get resettled in a third country. Now Hasan, along with others, is living Kathmandu as “urban refugees” - a status that entitles them to some support from the UN refugee agency. They lack documents to prove their identities to get a refugee status and hence are deemed illegal migrants. 

Hasan survives on the stipend provided by the UNHCR. The stipend hardy covers our daily cost of living, he says. 

Recently, the UN agency cut down the allowance, citing larger refugee operations. Official at the UNHCR say there has been 25 percent reduction in the allowance as per its global policy. An Urban refugee receives Rs 5,750 per month. 

“I get Rs 2,400 per month, which is not enough to pay the rent,” says Hamid Husain, another Rohingya. “People do not give us job.”

“We are unable to make a living with the meager allowance given to us,” says Noor Mohamad, another Rohingya refugee. With no labour privileges, most of these “urban refugees” have not option than to stay idle, calculating the way they can make the most of the stipend they receive. 

Now, with Nepal going through a serious crisis in the wake of ongoing protests in the Tarai and an unofficial blockade imposed by India, Rohingya refugees too are feeling the heat. Prices of daily essentials have gone up and they are hard put to survive. As a last resort, they now have decided to stage a sit-in in front of the UNHCR office.

According to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Rohingya, along with other “urban refugees”, have been staging sit-ins for the last one month. 

“We lack a national legal framework, which has made it difficult for us to deal with refugee issues,” says NHRC officer Basudev Bajgain. The commission has been lobbying with the government to adopt 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Option Protocol relating to the status of refugees. In the absence of the legal framework, asylum seekers in Nepal do not get refugee status. According to Bajgain, the national rights watchdog has been discussing with the UNHCR to find solution for these refugees. 

Until then, the fate of these 134 Rohingya and around 600 other “urban refugees” originating from around a dozen countries hangs in the balance. 

Published: 19-11-2015 09:27

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