KATHMANDU, June 18: Mohammed Karim, 27, gets melancholic as he remembers the last time he celebrated Eid with his parents, wife and three children in his native Burma, now known as Myanmar, from a tin-roof hut of a Rohigya Muslim camp on the outskirts of Kathmandu.
“I miss them all the time. I don't even feel hunger. Earlier I used to eat 200 grams of rice but these days I can hardly eat 100 grams,” said Karim.Karim is one of the newest arrivals in the camp and is without a family.
It remains unclear how many Rohingya are currently living in Nepal but UN agencies estimate that there might be around 500 Burmese refugees who fled violence in their home country since 2010. Most of them are living in three small camps in Kapan. Some others are believed to be scattered in various parts of Nepal.
He was forced to leave his family behind after thousands of Burmese Army stormed into his village situated in Mangdu district of Myanmar last year, targeting young men who the local administration accused of aiding violence.“I remained in hiding in the neighboring villages for days hoping that the escalation would subside. But things started getting worse. Most of the men either fled or got killed. I couldn't return to my family,” said Karim, recalling the horror of those days which the United Nations calls a "textbook" example of cleansing of one of the "most prosecuted minorities in the world".
Karim is among a million Rohingyas to leave Burma since the government there started targeting minority Muslim population who share language, food and culture with people of neighboring Bangladesh.Rohingyas, whom the Burmese government sees as migrant population from Bangladesh, have long been victims of well-orchestrated oppression but things started getting worse after Buddhist militants, aided by the country's military, started driving off the minorities five years ago.
Many men were lynched or burnt alive, while the female members of their families were raped, according to eyewitness accounts complied by various rights organization.According to the UN, as many as 10,000 people including women and children have died since the government there intensified crackdown on ethnic Rohingya in early 2017, an allegation that Myanmar government led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi denies.Nearly 700,000 Rohingya are currently taking refuge in neighboring Bangaldesh while some others have reached far and wide across Asia including Malaysia, Thailand, India and Nepal.As he prepares to celebrate this year's Eid together with other refugees in the camp, Karim has little reasons to cheer.
His family is still out of contact. He ritually checks news sites, YouTube and social media hoping that he might find them.Karim says he struggles to go to sleep each night thinking about his kids, aged 12, 8 and 6. His mind becomes playground for hope and fear.“Sometimes I feel like they might be in Bangladesh. Sometimes I feel like maybe they are still in the village. But the tragedy is I don't even know whether they are alive or dead. Hope is all I have now,” said Karim during an interview on the eve of Eid.
This sense of separation was palpable across Rohingya camps we visited during the Ramadan. While a few like Karim celebrated this year's Ramadan praying to be reunited with their loved ones, others spent the months in remembrance of the loved ones who were killed or went missing in the wake of violence.It remains unclear how many Rohingyas are currently living in Nepal but UN agencies estimate that there might be around 500 Burmese refugees who fled violence in their home country since 2010. Most of them are living in three small camps in Kapan, a few kilometers away from downtown Kathmandu. Some others are believed to be scattered in various parts of Nepal. Jafar Miya, another refugee in the camp, has not met his family members since he fled his home in 2013. At that time, Rohango, the Rohingya stronghold in Burma's Rakhine state had just started to witness exodus due to state-sponsored persecution.
His district continues to remain embroiled in violence between Buddhist majority and ethnic Rohingya whom Burmese government decline to accept as its citizens under 1982 Myanmar Nationality law.It has been eight years since Miya last celebrated Eid with his family.“Those were the happiest moments of my life. We had our own home, plenty of food and our loved ones around. It's those memories that are keeping me alive,” Miya said as he sat with fellow men in the camp to eat his evening meal Thursday, his first for the day as is customary in the holy month of Ramadan.
Though the refugees have been getting financial and material support from the United Nations and various local Muslim organizations, most of them struggle to make ends meet from day to day. Many of the Rohingya have been working in construction and agricultural sector.Miya, 34, who married a refugee girl in Nepal and has a son, feels luckier than many in the camp as he managed to track down his family members with the help of a journalist who had uploaded a footage of his family on YouTube.
His parents, brothers, four sisters and other members of the family had fled to Bangladesh last year after a nephew and a niece were killed by the Myanmar military.“I had almost given up hopes of meeting my family since the conflict escalated last year. But it's a big relief to know that they are safe. Hopefully we will be together some day,” said Miya, the youngest among seven brothers in his family."Things might not be the same again but we shall all remain happy when we reunite."