“They want us out of here,” Says Rohingya refugees displaced by massive fire at Delhi camp stare at uncertain future

On June 12, a massive fire destroyed a Rohingya refugee Camp in Okhla’s Madanpur Khadar in New Delhi, displacing nearly 270 refugees. Although nobody among the refugees is certain about what started the fire, many refugees claim “they were targetted.”

NEW DELHI – In Okhla’s Madanpur Khadar in New Delhi, what was once a slum settlement for Rohingya refugees, is now a pile of debris. A fire that broke out at the camp here at about 11.30 p.m. on June 12, destroyed over 50 temporary shanties and displaced nearly 270 refugees.

Although nobody is certain about what started the fire, many refugees claim that “they were targeted.” 

Rohingya refugees that TwoCircles.net talked to said that that they “used to stay in a camp in the nearby Kalindi Kunj neighbourhood until it was destroyed by fire in 2018.” 

Sufia, who was living at the camp with her husband and children since 2012, claimed that they lost Rs 50,000 as a result of the fire. 

“My husband had put in a lot to establish a shoe business, but it was all for nothing. Seeing all of this breaks my heart. They want us out of here,” Sufia said. 

Sufia, like many others, claims the firing incident was “no accident.” 

“We have been getting threats from some groups over the last two years. The government should help us. We cannot trust our government back home,” she said, wiping away tears.

In 2018, a fire broke out in the dead of night at the Kalindi Kunj camp. During that incident, most residents lost all of their goods, notably crucial identity documents such as United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) issued refugee cards and immigration documents. They were resettled at the Madanpur Khadar camp, which is under the ownership of the Uttar Pradesh Irrigation Board but was administered by the Delhi Government.

Scene of a Rohingya refugees camp at Madanpur in Delhi | Picture by author

Residents told TwoCircles.net that they have been receiving threats. 

“For the last few days, we have been getting these threats. We have been threatened previously, but it had become more widespread in recent days. This is what happened before the 2018 fire too,” Minara, a community activist remarked.

“After Delhi Police had picked up and detained some of our brethren from the camp in April amid the pandemic, we were fearful of eventual deportation, and now we have lost everything we built—again,” Sufia said.

Minara said that the Delhi government had informed her that temporary camps would be set up at the same location after the ground was levelled with a JCB roller. 

The refugees have been relocated to the Kalindi Kunj campsite, which was destroyed by fire in 2018. 

“The Delhi government has set up tents for us here now,” said Ali Johar. 

Johar, a community organiser, told TwoCircles.net that “the fire was not an isolated event, but rather part of a campaign to frighten and remove refugees.”

“The Uttar Pradesh government is all ready to regain its land from Rohingyas in Kalindi Kunj neighbourhood of Delhi,” The Organiser, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s mouthpiece, reported on March 26. 

Over the last year, the UP Police has arrested 11 Rohingya refugees amid the pandemic. 

“The 2018 fire event is still under investigation. “This was all temporary,” Johar sighs, adding, “Members of the UP Irrigation Board have been harassing the refugees since they moved to the Madanpur Khadar camp.” 

Left without any shelter and uncertainty about the future, the affected Rohingya refugees “want a ray of hope to rebuild their lives.” 

Mohd Noor Qasim, who lost all of his savings in the fire, is unclear if he would be able to reconstruct his life. “I lost everything in the last fire, but I got a new job,” Qasim said. 

Qasim added that he has little hope for the future and is afraid that he can’t provide for his children as well as he wanted. 

Suchitra is an independent journalist working on social justice, focusing primarily on gender justice. She tweets at @Suchitrawrites.

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