Underneath strain, village not a Rohingya haven

KURULI (S 24-PGNS): A South 24-Parganas village that had welcomed 109 Rohingya refugees — in four batches — is scared to accept any more.
Because of political turbulence and constant police watch, a group of 80 Rohingyas who had arrived at the in Baruipur last Tuesday were not allowed to settle there, with the villagers driving them out. “We have been regularly receiving threats from a political outfit for giving shelter to unknown foreigners,” said a middleaged villager who lives near the refugee camp. “To make matters worse, cops are coming to our village almost every day and are asking a lot of questions to women and children. We are sympathetic to the Rohingyas and are not asking the ones who have already settled here to go away, but we don’t want any more.”

With the large group of new Rohingya refugees pushed back from the village, help came from a minority federation, which has settled these people at a temporary shed in Ghutairy Sharif, around 10km from the existing camp. But even this federation has asked the NGO in Kuruli, which was facilitating movement of Rohingya refugees from other parts of India to the state, not to bring any more refugees at this moment.

“The political pressure and repeated police interrogation has scared the villagers and the settlers. As a result, the new batch of Rohingyas has been settled at a separate camp in Ghutiary Sharif,” said , general secretary, .

Last Tuesday, a truckload of 80 Rohingya refugees belonging to 27 families had reached Kuruli village, around 45km from the city. They had come from Mewat village in Haryana’s Nuh district, where they lived in refugee camps for several months.

Villagers keep away after political harassment

However, following their arrival, rumours spread fast that batches of Rohingyas had crossed the Indo-Bangladesh border in neighbouring North 24-Parganas and had come to settle in Baruipur. As a result, there was massive police interrogation and checking of documents over the next two days. To make matters worse, alleged BJP supporters reportedly threatened the NGO workers and villagers for providing shelter to the Rohingyas.

“There has been constant political pressure mounting on me as well as the villagers. I still want to help these poor men, but cannot keep them here at Kuruli any more,” said Hossain Gazi, who runs the NGO Desh Bachao Samajik Committee, and had been facilitating the settlement of Rohingyas in Bengal from other states.

Being pushed back from Kuruli, the fresh batch of Rohingyas has been put up in makeshift tents made of bamboo, polythene sheets and old saris at Makhal Tala in Ghutiary Sharif, around 10km from Kuruli. Even the settlers who had come in earlier batches are now feeling intimidated. “We are scared,” said Shahidul Islam, who had come to the camp in Dacember. “Some political workers are also threatening Gazi and other villagers for providing shelter to us, which has made some villagers stay at arm’s length,” he added.

The Kuruli camp is currently home to 77 Rohingyas, of whom 33 are minors. Till earlier this month, there was a total of 109 in the camp, of whom 32 subsequently left — some in search of work and some to renew their High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) permits.

“We have been living a dismal life ever since we fled from Myanmar two years ago. We had heard life was better for refugees in the Bengal camp. So, we had come here. But here, too, we have been pushed back,” said , who came to Bengal last week with his family of seven from Haryana.

BJP state president Dilip Ghosh said he had no knowledge about the settlers being threatened by his party workers, but iterated that his party didn’t support the influx of refugees into the state. “The state government has been promoting vote-bank politics by allowing safe settlement for these refugees. The Centre doesn’t support it and we will be moving court this week against the influx,” he said.

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