A delay in the renewal of their refugee status is spelling trouble for 40 Rohingya families living in Bengaluru for the past seven years. If employers grossly underpay them, goons extort ‘hafta’ from them to let them make a living.
The families had emigrated from Myanmar over 10 years ago with assistance from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Some settled in Bengaluru in 2013 while others moved to different parts of the country.
In Bengaluru, the Rohingya have been living in a small refugee camp near Dasarahalli. Their refugee status expired in early 2020. By the time they applied for the renewal, the lockdown set in. Jobless for months, they are trying to reach Hyderabad to contact the UNHCR regional office.
The delay in the renewal of their refugee card has made the Rohingya soft targets for goons.
“The harassment had been going on for quite some time but it turned into verbal threats after we delayed paying the ‘hafta’,” a Rohingya refugee said, requesting anonymity. In October, a gang brutally attacked the Rohingya for refusing to pay the ‘hafta’ and robbed them of cash and valuables, the refugee added.
Zia Nomani, a lawyer working with the Land and Policy Research Institute, said the statelessness of the Rohingya refugees had made them vulnerable to exploitation. “Their very status makes them helpless when it comes to fighting off these criminals,” he said.
While the Rohingya fear prosecution over the non-renewal of their refugee status, they don’t have the confidence to fight these criminals legally due to their statelessness, Nomani added.
Most of the 145 Rohingya refugees, working as ragpickers, are also exploited at work. Some pay the ‘hafta’ to local goons in return for being allowed to do the rag-picking activity. Others working for various garbage contractors are paid less than half of what pourakarmikas get.
“The UNHCR authorities should visit the camp and help these people instead of expecting them to travel to Hyderabad during the pandemic,” Nomani said.