Hungry children wait for parents at Rohangiya settlements leading to anger, despair

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Jammu: In a dimly lit dingy room made of tin at Kiryani Talab in Narwal area on the outskirts of Jammu city on Sunday afternoon, four hungry children waited for their parents.

Mohammad-ul Hassan along with his three sibblings waiting for his parents at a jhuggi in Narwal on Sunday.

Their parents, Mohammad Hussain and Ismat Ara were among the 168 people including females who were rounded up during the collection of biometric details of Rohangiyas at MA Stadium on Saturday. Later, they were lodged at Hiranagar sub jail which has been converted into a holding centre.

Of the four children, only Mohammad-ul-Hassan, 11, understands a little bit gravity of the situation. His other three siblings, Jaibullah, Noor Hassan and Asma Jan are aged between 8, 7 and 4 years respectively.

Police and para military personnel at the main entrance to M A Stadium on Sunday where biometeric details of Rohangiyas are being collected by police.

“As the parents did not return home till late evening, we cried and later fell asleep empty stomach,’’ Mohammad-ul-Hassan said. Unable to explain as to what made their parents leave the jhuggi on Saturday, he said “I was not at home at that time’’. Others could not tell where their parents had gone.

Police men deployed in a Rohangiya settlement in Narwal area on Sunday.

According to their neighbours, Mohammad Hussain along with his wife and two children had come to Jammu from Myanmar some eight years ago. Noor Hassan and Asma Jan were born here.

Their’s is not an isolated case, but everywhere while one was waiting for one’s parents, other was unaware about the whereabouts of children and wife worried about her husband.

In the adjoining jhuggi, which too is made of tin, an aged Haseena Begum along with seven grand children, aged 3-12 years, was waiting for her son Ibrahim and daughter-in-law Sajida Bibi. The plot owner came around 4 pm telling people that they have been called by cops sitting inside their vehicle on the roadside, she said. Some of them took along their children as well, but the cops made children to return and took the adults with them, she added.

“Since then, I don’t know about the whereabouts of Ibrahim and his wife,’’ Hassena Begum said, adding their mobile phone is also switched off.

However, in a nearby jhuggi, Sara Khan, 20, along with her a month old baby is waiting for her husband Abdullah, a labourer, who left the jhuggi Saturday evening saying that he has been called at the local police station. “As he did not return till late night, I called him on his mobile, but he said that he doesn’t know as to where they have been kept,’’ she said, adding thereafter his mobile was switched off.

Nearly 5000-6000 Rohangiyas have been camping at various places on the outskirts of Jammu city like Bhatindi, Narwal, Sunjwan, Channi, New Plot etc., and a sizeable number of them came here nearly a decade ago. These Rohangiyas, who are Muslims by religion, had come here from Myanmar accusing the government of their native land of persecuting them. They claim to be in UNHCR cards certifying them as refugees. The police move had triggered despair and anger.

On Sunday, a large number of Rohingya marched from Narwal towards Mecca Masjid in the Bhatindi area of Jammu, accusing police of asking them to step out of their homes again for verification. They dispersed after being stopped midway by a large contingent of police. “No one was picked up on Sunday to be taken to the holding centre,” a senior police officer said.

None of them was aware as to why the police were shifting them to the “holding centre’’ at Hiranagar.

In the past, police have arrested some Rohangiyas having got issued permanent residents certificate, adhaar card etc.

“There are few bad people in every community including us and they may have got prepared their Adhaar cards damaging all of us,’’ said Abu Ahmed, 55, who along with his wife and four children came here 11 years ago. His two children were later born in India, he said, adding his four children including three daughters got married while staying at Narwal.

“We want to return home the moment situation normalizes in Myanmar,’’ he said. “But if Government of India tells us to leave, we will return to our native land even now,’’ he said, adding that “there shall, however, be no harassment here as we had fled Myanmar too in the wake of our persecution’’.

The police action had come a day after it set up “holding centre” under the Foreigners Act in the Hiranagar sub-jail in Kathua district, to place Rohangiya refugees there. The holding centres with a capacity to hold 250 people were set up by a Home Department notification on Friday.

While there had been no official statement on the matter on Saturday as none of the senior police officers responded to repeated phone calls, Inspector General of Police for Jammu zone, Mukesh Singh, had previous night said a total of 168 Rohangiyas including women have been held at holding centre set up in Hiranagar as they were staying here without any valid documents. When asked about the next step, he said that it will be to contact their embassy for verification of their nationality and then initiate process for their deportation. When asked about their possession of UNHCR cards, he said that these do not authorize them to stay here.

The Jammu and Kashmir BJP president Ravinder Raina, however, told media persons at Katra that action against Rohangiyas has been taken following a request by Myanmar Government’s External Affairs Ministry to Government of India for deporting their nationals staying in India. They have sought deportation of Rohangiyas camping in other countries as well, saying that they will resettle them in Myanmar, he added.

“Anyone who has to leave his native land is certainly happy on returning home,’’ the BJP leader said, adding that “this exercise has been undertaken under supervision of the United Nations’’. “It is a matter of happiness that they return home,’’ he added.

The Jammu and Kashmir administration had on Saturday begun an exercise at M A Stadium to collect biometric and other details of Rohingyas staying in Jammu. “We filled up forms and gave our finger prints,’’ a Rohangiya said, adding that their COVID-19 test were also conducted.

The settlement of Rohangiyas has always been opposed by BJP and other Jammu based political, social and trade organizations including Panthers Party, IkkJutt Jammu, and even the Jammu Chamber of Commerce and Industry as they felt that their settlement was not only against the interests of local population, but also a security threat in the militancy infested Jammu and Kashmir. The BJP has in its election manifesto during the 2014 assembly elections promised to deport Rohangiyas to their native country.