While being caught between the two fires, afflicted Rohingya Muslims who crossed borders to take shelter in India and settled in Bengaluru, are now fighting for their survival in the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Rohingya are a muslim ethnic group who fled Myanmar during previous bouts of violence. Many of them fled to neighboring Bangladesh, India and other countries to escape discrimination in their country. They have scattered across different places in the country.
Speaking to THG, Zia Nomani, founder of Law and Policy Research Institute, said he has already written to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), bringing up the issue of Rohingyas vaccination. But so far, he has still not heard any response from the UNHCR.
Besides the religious oppression and struggle to get their refugee status renewed, they face many other problems. Nomani says their community settlements lack hygiene, toilets, no proper water supply, electricity and basic medical facilities.
He said all Rohingyas are involved in menial jobs such as rack picking and waste segregation. They collect all dry waste from across Bengaluru, bring it to their settlements, segregate it, and sell it later. This community is vulnerable to the Covid-19 infection and they have not been vaccinated yet.
Activist Nomani added, “it is important to get them vaccinated because even if one of them gets positive, a large population is at the risk of this virus as they go rack picking all over the city.”
Testing is very low for a common man in India and for them, it’s lower. Nomani claimed that three people have contracted virus, again they couldn’t get tested, so they had to get local medicine available for them. “They use home remedies like drinking the extract of papaya tree leaves if anyone gets a fever and claims it cures them. They have little or no access to medical facilities as they don’t have enough money to go to hospitals nor have any insurance policy. They do not prefer to go to hospitals.”
“Honorable Commissioner of Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), Gaurav Gupta, has told that anyone who comes forward will be vaccinated. I’m trying to get in touch with him and arrange for a vaccination drive for these people,” he added.
There is a lot of vaccination hesitancy, Nomani said, “people don’t want to get vaccinated. Not just the Rohingya community, this is a major roadblock and it’s common with other Indians too. The government has failed to communicate that how effective the vaccine can be. First, we have to make them understand why the vaccine is important.”
In Bengaluru, there are about 330 registered refugees with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees(UNHCR), residing in huts made from tin, plastic and mud on a vast ground near Lumbini Garden in Dasarahalli. Many are unregistered too. Nomai said, “we have provided all the food and ration for each Rohingya family, both the registered and unregistered. We have done the due diligence to find out. We have almost covered 746 families, including the migrant workers. On the medical front, we provide them with an ambulance and medical support then and there required. We try to connect them with the local dispensary and mobilize them.”
More than 90 settlements are BBMP recognized and almost 40 unrecognized. He added that surprisingly both the recognized and unrecognized have the same unhyegnic conditions and it’s a long battle that they have been fighting with the BBMP and others to ensure these settlements are converted into labour colonies, like those in kerala.
“We found it is not just about hygiene, the bigger problem is the no education for children and they are exploited by local and migrant contractors, it is a major issue for all the settlements. They have to buy water every day. Some tankers come and they have to pay every day for basic drinking water. The tanker mafia is involved; they do not want these people to get settled because many unorganized businesses are happening over there, which will be affected,” Nomai stated.
Some slums don’t have electricity, most organized slums have a constant electricity supply, but unrecognized slums don’t have it. The government says these are illegal settlements, and how can they supply power to them. The fact is humans are staying there and they should be given electricity.” Concluding the statement he said, “we are saying every human should get water, electricity and a toilet. That’s the condition of slums across Bengaluru, not just Rohingya slums.”