As confusion prevailed over the housing status of Rohingya refugees in Delhi’s Madanpur Khadar, with conflicting statements between Union Housing Minister Hardeep Singh Puri and the Union Home Ministry, many at the makeshift shelters watched with worry and resignation.
Puri had earlier tweeted on the provision of EWS flats to Rohingyas in Bakkarwala, with the MHA later denying it, and also calling on the Delhi government to declare the present location a detention centre.
The refugee settlement here exists on one side of a battered dirt road punctuated by puddles of stagnant water, with flies swarming the area. Some shops and settlements are located at an elevation, while several shanties are located lower down.
“We have lived here for ten years now. We have faced many difficulties. If they shift us somewhere else, will that mean more restrictions on us? Everyone here is worried due to this uncertainty,” said Tasleema, a resident, who lives with four children and her husband Jabbar, a plumber.
“Here, there is work, and the children can go to school. Even through all difficulties like the fire last year, we managed to pull through. Who knows what will happen in an area that we don’t know?” she said. The fire broke out last June, and gutted over 50 shanties, including Tasleema’s.
Her daughter Mizn described the family’s arrival in India. “Just before the violence against Rohingya broke out, we escaped to Bangladesh. After treatment for my father’s illness, we came to India. Some of my relatives are still at camps in Bangladesh.” A 10th standard student at the National Institute of Open Schooling, Mizn hopes to return to Myanmar after finishing her college education, as a social worker to help her community.
With the move to new flats virtually ruled out by evening, Mizn described the concerns residents have at the shanties: “The biggest issue is that we don’t have any proper toilets or piped water. We get assistance every three months from the UNHCR, which gives us rations, sanitary kits, soaps, and mosquito repellants. People trying to work also face issues. Two people who tried to set up stalls in Shaheen Bagh were told that they had to set up inside our settlement. They were not the only ones to face such problems. Even electricity supply was not provided until the fire happened.”
Reacting to the conflicting news about potential resettlement or the creation of a detention centre, she said, “We have learnt to cope with these apprehensions now. If they shift us, will we still be able to go to work and study? And how can they set up a detention centre here when the houses are on different levels, and there are no facilities available for us in this congested area?”
Another Rohingya student, requesting anonymity, said, “We will have to wait for a statement from police or the UNHCR. No one has officially been told anything, we are getting to know everything from the news. We are not sure what to think about all this.”
Another refugee, who too did not wish to be identified, said bitterly: “We are living in such a bad condition, and then people from outside call us illegals. They say it right before us, as though we are foolish and cannot understand them. We have also learnt Hindi. We know what they are saying.”