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Rohingya in India Seek Refugee Status

Chittagong, Bangladesh:  Hundreds of Rohingyas, demanding refugee status, have set up a protest camp at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) , in Vasant Vihar, South Delhi. The protestors, a Muslim ethnic minority persecuted in Burma, have been camped by the rear compound wall of the office, since April 9.

The  Rohingyas in India are being discriminated against because of their religion, said Mamoon Rafique, a protestor at the camp.

 “The UNHCR officials are discriminating against us because we are Muslims. Other ethnic groups from Burma  get their refugee status card within months, or even days,  but we have to wait for years. Instead of granting us refugee status, they issue identification card which say we are asylum seekers. But these cards don’t allow us to legally work or send our kids to school in India,” he said.

Local Muslims, across the road from the UNHCR compound, have donated food to the protestors. But at the camp they do not have access to basic amenities, according to Rafique.

Zia-ul-Rahman, received his UNHCR asylum identification card on August 2011. He said the card allows him to stay in India but falls short of providing the basic rights available to registered refugees.

“ Our children need education and better living conditions, like clean water and proper toilets. But without refugee status we don’t have access to these things," said Zia-ul-Rahman.

Nayana Bose, associate external relations officer for UNHCR,  said they have registered and issued asylum identity cards to approximately, 1,800 Rohingya in India.

“The card is similar to the refugee card. It helps to protect them from harassment, arbitrary arrest, detention and expulsion, and prevents them from being forced back to a country where their life or freedom may be in danger," she said.

Health care and education at government schools is available for everybody in India, according to Bose.

After several meetings, no resolution has been reached between protestors  and UNHCR representatives. 

“We will not leave here until we are recognized as refugees,” said Shamsul Alam, one of the protestors at the camp.

Another meeting is scheduled for May 20.