How a Rohingya youth is fighting for the rights of his people

To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.” – Nelson Mandela

Rohingyas, frequently called the ‘most persecuted minority’ in the world have been escaping ‘ethnic cleansing’ at the hands of Myanmar armed forces. Stateless and being systematically denied human rights in the country they were born in, Rohingyas have been fleeing to neighbouring states, including India, where they are eking out a living in slums and make-shift camps. Sabber, one of the many Rohingya youths who left his home in the Rakhine state and made his way to India, now lives in Uttam Nagar, New Delhi. Impactpreneurs had a detailed talk with him regarding his struggles and his organisation, Rohingya Human Rights initiative (ROHRIngya)

According to government estimates, about 40,000 Rohingya refugees currently live in India. The biggest communities are in Delhi, Hyderabad, Jammu, Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Kolkata and Manipur. These people arrived with very little means- most of what they owned was left behind in Myanmar and the remaining was spent buying their passage to India. Now they are forced to live in poor conditions where they struggle to make their ends meet.

Sabber, Founder of ROHRIngya

Sabber arrived from Burma in 2005. For some time, he worked as a Rohingya interpreter for the UN where he used to interpret languages like Hindi, Burmese, English and Rohingya. But after the genocide of Rohingyas in Myanmar in 2012, he diverted his attention to fighting for the rights of his people. He started ROHRIngya at his home in Delhi with a handful of volunteers in 2017. The organisation is financially supported by the contributions made from within the community. People donate whatever they can, ranging from a few rupees up to bigger contributions, such as 10, 000 INR or exceptionally 30, 000 INR.

To add to the struggle for daily needs – clothing, food and shelter, people also face constant denial of basic human rights. At ROHRIngya, we aim to empower Rohingyas by educating them, stopping human trafficking, raising women’s voice, fighting domestic violence and developing the community,” Sabber explained to us.

Women and children are particularly at risk. Sabber related a dreadful story of a 13-year old girl being trafficked and sold in Jammu who was found 8-month pregnant. When the matter was reported to the police, it went unconcerned. Later, she was brought to Delhi and given temporary shelter by ROHRIngya.

According to Sabber, not being recognized as refugees by the Indian Government perpetuates the vulnerability of the community. Their lack of valid documents makes it harder for the Rohingya to earn money and access health and education services, trapping the community in poverty. With the help of the Indian Government and the UN, the organisation managed to provide Long-Term Visas (LTVs) to some Rohingyas in India in 2017, which enabled them to have better access to employment opportunities. However, LTVs were stopped for the Rohingya in 2018.

In another instance, a Rohingya settlement camp was burnt down just a day after a successful press conference on Rohingyas organised by Salamah Group Educational & Welfare Trust as the main organizer in cooperation with Sabber and attended by 700 people including foreign security ambassadors. ROHRIngya coordinated with NGOs and District Magistrate to provide emergency relief to the people living in the camp.

Sabber pointed out that language barriers along-with lack of valid documents make it harder for people to find livelihood trapping the community in poverty. Last year, they provided education to children between 5-13 years. As part of a women empowerment project, they also taught Rohingya women for six months basic literacy, including how to sign their own name and communication skills.andThe provision of psychosocial support was also a part of this project.  With the help of Indian Government and the UN, the organisation has managed to provide long-term VISA to some Rohingyas in India who can now live legally in the country and earn their bread by following Indian norms.

As per the Government data, there are around 40,000 Rohingyas but there are actually 16,500* of us. We visit them or contact them over the phone to know their living conditions,” added Sabber.

Rohingya Camp
Rohingya Camp in New Delhi

In such a short span of time of its operation, ROHRIngya has organized two big conferences. They have been continuously raising the issues faced by Rohingyas in front of the international organizations and the media by organizing numerous press conferences. They also collaborate with Indian universities like Jawaharlal Nehru University, Jamia University and Aligarh University to discuss the issues. The significant work done by ROHRInya for their community, however, will be meaningless if the Rohingya are sent back to Myanmar under its present environment.

Sports have proven to be a medium to spread fraternity between the Rohingya and other communities. ROHRIngya has helped establish eight regional Rohingya football teams across India. Rohingya players participate with the local communities with the hope of promoting peaceful coexistence. The initiative has also boosted the morale of Rohingya youth, who have never before had the platform to play sports on such a scale.

ROHRIngya’s football team

We are humans and we want to be treated as such. Our community has been suppressed since 1942 and there has been a genocide perpetrated by the Myanmar security forces against us. This has been recognised by the UN and other countries in 2018. Despite this, India and Bangladesh are ready to deport us,” said Sabber. He added that, as per the principle of non-refoulement under the International Humanitarian Law, Rohingya cannot be repatriated back to Myanmar unless it is safe for them to do so. Unfortunately, Rohingyas are still denied basic rights and treated inhumanely in Myanmar. He urged the Indian community to stand by the Rohingya because their very survival depends on it.

*Latest numbers provided by UNHCR counted up to 18,000 Rohingya refugees and asylum-seekers registered with UNHCR in India.

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