New Delhi: “It was a blessing to wake up every morning and not have to worry whether we will make it through the day,” says 18-year-old Raheema, a Rohingya Muslim, recalling her first few days in India after she fled her home in Myanmar to escape persecution.
The ‘nightmares’ that she thought were a thing of past, the teenager said, have returned to haunt her after she heard on radio at a grocery shop that the government has brought in the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and what it means.
“Slowly India has become our home,” Raheema, who came to India six years ago with her two brothers, said at a refugee camp in south Delhi.
“The situation for us is worse than that for anyone else who would not be given Indian citizenship. We will be sent back to a country that we fled to escape violence and returning there would be nothing less than a death warrant for us.
“I don’t want to get involved in politics but the situation is very difficult for us now,” she said.
Raheema is one of the estimated 40,000 Rohingyas living in India. Most of them are living in refugee camps across the country.
Also living in the south Delhi camp is 22-year-old Salaam.
He said he had to flee his village Tula Toli in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state overnight after the army allegedly burnt his house, killed his family members and told him he was next.
“I crossed over to Bangladesh on foot with around 35 people from my village. I went to Cox’s Bazar and worked as a daily wage labourer for four months before coming to India with a few others,” he recalled.
Salaam said things were extremely critical when he left his village.
“I ran away from my village with just the clothes I was wearing. No one wants to flee their home, we were forced to leave. Now again we will be forced to leave our home that we had found in India,” he laments.
According to the CAA, non-Muslim refugees who came to India till December 31, 2014, to escape religious persecution in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan will be given Indian citizenship.
The Act excludes Rohingyas, described by the UN as the most persecuted minority in the world.
Earlier this month, Union Home Minister Amit Shah had said in Parliament that “Rohingyas will never be accepted as citizens of India”.
Another Rohingya, Kulsum, fears the CAA will ‘spell doom’ for her community, which has always been stateless.
“India has been home to me and my child. The thought of taking him back to the terrors we faced back in Myanmar is horrific,” said Kulsum, who fled Maungdaw village in Rakhine.
At this Delhi camp, many others, who have been living in India for years and have refugee cards issued by the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), are wary of returning to Myanmar.
Rohingyas have been displaced by waves of violence between Buddhists and Muslims in Rakhine. Thousands of them have fled Myanmar to take refuge in neighbouring countries, including India.
The refugees have reported killings, rapes and arson on a large scale.
Buddhist-majority Myanmar has denied citizenship to Rohingyas since 1982, effectively rendering them stateless.
It does not recognise Rohingyas as an indigenous ethnic group and insists they are Bangladeshi migrants living illegally in the country.