25/03/2016 8:24 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST

The People Of Nowhere: Life In A Rohingya Refugee Camp In Delhi [Photos]

I recently visited a Rohingya refugee camp in New Delhi's Kanchan Kunj area. The only proof of identity they have is a card provided by the UNHCR, which also looks into their grievances and immediate needs.

Nawal Ali Watali


Tasleema, pictured here with her youngest and oldest children, is planning on divorcing her husband who is a drug addict. Her goal is to give her daughter Mizan a good education. She is fighting social pressure to send Mizan not only to school but also for tuitions.

The persecution and exodus of Myanmar's Rohingya Muslim community is well documented but has remained in the periphery of global consciousness. Following large-scale communal violence in 2012 between the Rohingyas, who belong to the Arakan region of Myanmar, and the Rakhine Buddhist population, many members of this community migrated to countries like Pakistan, Malaysia, Bangladesh, India and Indonesia. Literally exiled from their homeland, they have been living in poor conditions where physical and psychological violence are the new normal.

I recently visited a Rohingya refugee camp in New Delhi's Kanchan Kunj area. The only proof of identity they have is a card provided by the UNHCR, which also looks into their grievances and immediate needs.

The camp was set up in 2012 on land provided by the Zakat Foundation, a charity organization. There is a school for children in the vicinity and the fees are paid by the Zakat Foundation, although one of the kids said that this source of funds may dry up soon. The men either work in a small construction project at the camp or provide their labour in the local market.

About 50 families call this camp home, and most of whom continue to suffer hardship, discrimination and exploitation; some among them are activists who organize regular protests, usually near Jantar Manta or outside the Embassy of Myanmar.

"We just want our voices to be heard and get the attention we deserve," says Mohammad Farooq who once owned plenty of farmland and ran an established construction business. He says he has rescued around 10 Rohingya girls who were being trafficked from Bangladesh to India.




The refugee camp is essentially a collection of shanties consisting of tiny, cramped rooms. The structures are made of either plywood or cobbled together using bamboo and curtains.


Many men are involved in the construction of a small mosque inside the camp. They receive ₹300 per day.





The majority of the women of the camp do not work although many of them say they would love to find a job and earn. For now, most of them have no pursuits other than childcare and housework. Some do help out in the construction project but do not get paid for their work. Small blessings come in the form of free sanitary napkins and underwear from UNHCR.





Many of the children go to a nearby school. Although English is part of the syllabi of this school, it is rarely taught.


Sumit (13) aspires to become an engineer. Back in Myanmar, she witnessed her father dying amidst the violent clashes between the Rohingya Muslims and the Rakhine Buddhists.


Sohail Khan, before migration, was a student of Sociology Honours. While his grandfather lives in the United States, Sohail cannot join him as he doesn't have a valid national identity.


Mizan (13) is dedicated to her education but fears leaving the house ever since she was traumatized by the slaying of a 13-year-old girl in the camp by a 15-year-old-boy whose marriage proposal she had rejected.


Sanjeeda Begum runs a small shop funded by the UNHCR.

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