KATHMANDU, Aug 29: Jafar Miya, 34, was not at home in Muangdaw township of Rakhine state when an unruly mob, allegedly with tacit support from the Myanmar military and police, went on the rampage. When he tried to get to his home the following morning, all he could do was watch from a distance as smoke billowed from demolished buildings. With repeated attempts to get to Muangdaw failed, he could not track down his family.
The unruly mob continued hurling rocks, torching houses and even lynching the Rohingya in what looked like an attempt to evict all people of the Muslim faith who had been living there for centuries. The only choice for Jafar was to find a place where his life would be safe. Along with 13 other desperate Rohingya, he got into a canoe in the night to reach the bordering Bangladesh town of Patiya . It was the 12th of October, 2012.
Jafar and his friends stayed in Patiya for a few days. But as local police started seeking their IDs and other documents, they decided to flee to Sathgani, a town near the Indian border. They started living there in a locality where the population was mostly Muslim. But the locals suggested that they could find work only if they crossed into India.
That is what they did and they finally ended up in Katihar in Bihar. Locals they met at a mosque there offered them work at a pencil factory. But they were still worried about their safety and they decided to move on after five days, fearing possible arrest by police.
Jafar and his friends then arrived in Kathmandu with the help of a Nepali worker at the pencil factory . It was 18 days since they had left their home village in Myanmar. They did not have any trouble crossing into Nepal as they said they were Indians.
The reason they headed for Kathmandu was that they had heard about the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office here. “Initially, we got some help for food and lodging from the Jame Mosque and the UN refugee agency . But as the number of Rohigya refugees increased , the UN agency in 2015 stopped helping us , citing lack of funds,” said Jafar.
Jafar, who was single when he arrived here, is now married and has a year-old daughter. What worries him now is the uncertain future . Since the top leaders of Myanmar and Bangladesh are arriving here for the BIMSTEC Summit, he wishes that they would find an amicable solution to their problem.
“We are neither politicians, nor are we fighting against the government. We are civilians. We want to live peacefully,” he said.
Seated inside the zinc-sheet hut they built after taking some land at Lasuntar, Kapan on lease for five years, Jafar said all they are demanding is the land they had inhabited for years, citizenship cards like other citizens of Myanmar, freedom to practice their own religion and security of life and property. “We are not concerned who rules the country. We want the top leaders from Myanmar, Bangladesh and other countries to negotiate and resolve our issue,” he further said.
Around 400 Rohingya are living in zinc-sheet huts in Lasuntar and the Ram Mandir area of Kapan . As Nepal is not a party to the Refugee Convention (1951) and its optional protocol relating to the status of refugees, all asylum seekers here are treated as illegal migrants.
The Rohingya complain that they are facing insurmountable hardship. They neither receive support from external agencies nor are they allowed to work here legally. “We are desperate. We want the leaders concerned to either make our life in Nepal easier or create an environment for us to go back to our homes. Or else send us to a third country for resettlement,” said 61-year old Shahid Akbar.
Bilateral issues are not part of the agenda for the BIMSTEC Summit. However, top leaders may choose to discuss matters of mutual concern. They will have an opportunity to discuss such issues on the margins of the summit or during the summit retreat, according to officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.