Uttar Pradesh Clears Rohingya Camp on Its Land Weeks After Fire Displaced Refugees
The Uttar Pradesh government on Thursday evicted 16 Rohingya families living near Delhi’s Madanpur Khadar area, claiming the land in question belongs to the Uttar Pradesh irrigation department. They cleared part of the refugee camp under their “anti-encroachment” drive to remove any illegal structure, which included the refugee camp.
The officials cut off the water supply and said the “illegal” refugees should shift base to roadside tents set on the other side of the Delhi border. The refugees were asked to relocate from that land to separate tents next to Zakat Foundation land.
Refugees have pointed out the dangerous location of these tents, noting they pose a risk of accidents and there is no supply of food or water. The lack of sanitation at the roadside tents further poses a sanitation issue, especially for the women refugees.
The displaced families allege that the U.P. government also razed a makeshift mosque in the area. Nearly 300 refugees appealed to the authorities to not raze down their place of worship before, according to Al Jazeera.
“They asked the refugees living in tents located in the portion of the camp that falls in Uttar Pradesh state to relocate to the roadside tents. Then today morning, they demolished the washrooms and water supply pipes and the mosque,” Shamsheeda Khatoon, 27, told Al Jazeera.
The UP government has argued that this was a matter of illegal land occupation. “The Rohingyas have been living without permission on the land and it was necessary to carry this out. They also built a makeshift mosque which could have led to a conflict later. In matter of national interest, the land was cleared,” Mahendra Singh, Minister Jal Shakti in UP, told the Indian Express.
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The Rohingya refugees are among the most persecuted ethnic group, who fled political violence and ethnic cleansing in Myanmar in 2017. Almost 40,000 refugees, mostly undocumented, live across different parts of the country. The Indian government has not recognized them as refugees, and seeking asylum has remained a challenge. Some have settled in Delhi’s Madanpur Khadar area, when they were relocated there after another fire at camps in Kalindi Kunj displaced them.
However, Madanpur Khadar is also a precarious piece of land that has witnessed multiple fires in the past. Last month, a fire accident left 250 families bereft of all their possessions — and, most importantly, their documents — with no place else to go. Hours after the fire, the Irrigation Department turned up at the scene and ordered the refugees to leave the area. The families were reportedly subject to multiple threats from officials from this department.
“It is the government’s land, it is needed for certain projects… any private occupation will be considered illegal,” an official from the UP irrigation department told The Caravan last month.
Various state governments where refugee camps are present have declared them “illegal encroachers,” and have made numerous attempts to clear them from various sites. The razing of settlements in Madanpur Khadar is only the latest in a series of intimidation, evictions, lack of support from Indian officials, and a constant state of housing, employment and health precarity.
“First they lost their huts to fire and now their mosque and washrooms have been destroyed. This is blatant violation of human religious rights of the refugees,” Aasif Mujtaba, an activist who helps rehabilitate refugees, told Al Jazeera.
Activists and civil society groups have noted the dehumanization of Rohingyas — as “illegal immigrants” or “encroachers” — alienates them from relief efforts. The constant hazards to their make-shift settlements, displacement, and loss of possessions add to the struggle.