India: Are Rohingya refugees being targeted by arson?

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News Desk

India is home to an estimated 40,000 Rohingya refugees who escaped persecution in Myanmar.

Close to 20,000 of them are registered with the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

On January 10, a fire broke out in a Rohingya settlement in Faridabad district of Haryana, which is 20 kilometers away from the capital, New Delhi.

Around 40 Rohingya and Assamese families live in the same settlement. Most of the men in the community work as drivers or daily wage laborers.

Five houses were burned to the ground as the fire ravaged the settlement. Two of the homes belonged to Noor Qaeda’s family.

Twenty-year-old Qaeda, who is seven months pregnant, was asleep with her three-year-old son when they woke up to smoke inside their makeshift structure. Her husband ran into the house and pushed her and her son out, she told DW.

“Then the three of us stood and watched our entire life burn to ashes. There was nothing we could do,” she said.

Since the fire, Qaeda’s biggest fear is that she might have a miscarriage due to the cold, hunger and stress. So far, she has lost three children.

Haunted by flames
Research from the Social and Political Research Foundation (SPRF) India shows that between 2016 and 2021, 12 mysterious fires broke out in different Rohingya camps across India.

Four people died, many suffered serious injuries and close to 400 makeshift homes were damaged from these 12 fires.

Two of these fires happened due to a short circuit, five were most likely a result of “motivated arson,” and seven had unknown causes, according to SPRF.

Official reports typically register the cause of many fires as “unknown.”

“There’s a lot of discrepancies between the official narratives and what the refugees say,” said SPRF.

Sabber Kyaw Min, founder and director of the Rohingya Human Rights Initiative, questioned: “But if these fires are happening so regularly, why is it not being investigated properly?” he asked.

Right-wing nationalists seek Rohingya departure
In 2018, in one of the worst fires, 50 homes of Rohingya refugees were burned down after a camp in New Delhi caught fire.

A few hours after the fire broke out, Manish Chandela, a youth wing leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), claimed responsibility for the fire.

In 2017, several right-wing Hindu nationalist groups in northern India’s Jammu and Kashmir region had put up billboards which read, “Bangladeshis, Rohingyas Quit Jammu.”

For the past five years, the Indian government has been trying to send back Rohingya refugees.

New Delhi has described the Rohingya people as a security threat, accusing them of having links to the “Islamic State” and other Muslim extremist groups.

India does not have a national policy on refugees, and considers Rohingyas refugees as “illegal foreigners.”

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