Thursday, May 19, 2022

Mosque in Delhi Rohingya camp bulldozed by authorities, say refugees

An estimated 40,000 Rohingya refugees, many undocumented, live in cramped and rickety camps across Indian cities.

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Police and civil authorities in the Indian capital Delhi have demolished a makeshift mosque in a Rohingya camp, say the refugees, just weeks after a massive fire engulfed the settlement.

The mosque, made up of tarpaulin sheets and bamboo sticks, was bulldozed on Thursday morning at the camp located in New Delhi’s Madanpur Khader area in the city’s south.

Nearly 300 refugees, most of whom fled a brutal military crackdown in neighbouring Buddhist-majority Myanmar, told Al Jazeera the structure was demolished despite their appeals to the authorities not to do so.

The Muslim Rohingya say they have been left without a place to worship.

“The demotion began an hour after the Fajr prayers in the mosque,” Mohammad, 33, who wanted to be identified with his first name only for fear of reprisal, told Al Jazeera.

“They first destroyed the toilets and washrooms, uprooted a water hand pump and then demolished the mosque – all within 10 minutes.”

He said when the refugees tried to protest, the officials told them they were “illegal immigrants” living in the camp by “encroaching the land”.

“I told them this is our place of worship but they said you talk a lot,” said Mohammad. “For us, a mosque is just like the Hindus have temples. What they did is totally wrong but we are powerless.”

A police official at the nearby police station told Al Jazeera the demolished structure was not a mosque, just a ramshackle hut. He refused to answer further questions.

On June 13, the camp that hosts more than 50 refugee families living in tumble-down shelters, was destroyed in a massive blaze – the second time the camp had been reduced to ashes since 2018.

After that, the refugees lived in tents provided by local nonprofits and activists.

Activist Aasif Mujtaba, whose group Miles to Smile assists the Rohingya and collaborates with the government in their rehabilitation, said officials had been alleging that the camp, including the mosque, stood on encroached land.

Shamsheeda Khatoon, a 27-year-old Rohingya woman, said the mosque’s demolition was well planned.

“They told us to move to roadside tents, then they demolished the mosque,” she said. “They did not allow us to even take out the copies of the Quran and other religious books.”

She said the demolition of washrooms and water pumps has raised sanitation concerns among the women at the camp. “We now have no place to defecate, bathe or wash clothes.”

An estimated 40,000 Rohingya refugees, many undocumented, live in cramped and rickety camps across Indian cities.

The United Nations refugee agency has provided some of them with refugee cards, which helps them to access basic services and is supposed to protect them from police action.

Bangladesh currently holds more than a million Rohingya in cramped and squalid camps along its border with Myanmar. Large numbers of them have also taken refuge in neighbouring Asian countries, including India and Malaysia.

“The Rohingya are living a tough life in India where they also face hate and violence from Hindu right-wing groups,” said Mujtaba, the activist.

“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.”

Ali Johar, a Rohingya community activist in New Delhi, told Al Jazeera, “The refugees are also humans and the right to religion is a fundamental right in India.

“Demolishing their mosque in this manner is hurtful, to say the least. The government should follow a compassionate approach towards Rohingya so that we may not have to rebuild our lives again and again.”

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