Sunday, November 03, 2013

When There’s No Place Called Home (The plight of the Rohingyas in Jammu, India, and beyond)

Lora Tomas
Published in Tehelka Magazine, Volume 10 Issue 45, Dated 9 November 2013.

No future in sight: There are over a thousand, mostly unregistered, 
children under the age of five in the camp. 
(Photo: Rudra Rakshit)

The Rohingyas who fled from Burma to Jammu are living their lives in transition. If you come from nowhere, is there somewhere you can go?
The German-American political theorist Hannah Arendt, herself a refugee, said, in reference to the stateless Jews in World War II, that it was evident that one could do as one pleased with the stateless. In her book, The Origins of Totalitarianism, she put it more clearly: “The conception of human rights, based upon the assumed existence of a human being as such, broke down the very moment when those who professed to believe in it were for the first time confronted with people who had indeed lost all other qualities and specific relationships — except that they were still human.”

Though the paths to statelessness are intricate, the ways out of it are clear from numerous human rights treaties and conventions. Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights gives everyone “the right to a nationality”, while the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (India ratified it in 1979) states that “every child has the right to acquire nationality”. Along the same lines, but more specifically, the issue of statelessness is addressed in the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, according to which state parties must take preemptive measures in situations in which persons may be rendered stateless, and those born on their territory should be given access to means of obtaining citizenship based on the jus soli principle.

By putting some of these political imperatives into effect, the problem of the stateless Rohingyas could be dealt with, and partially solved within one generation by keeping in mind that Rohingya children in Jammu, for example, outnumber the actual immigrants, their parents, by almost two thirds. On the other hand, a more pertinent perspective on the Rohingya dilemma is offered in Article 1 of the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, which defines a refugee as a person “who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it”.
A home away from home: There are nearly 1,700 Rohingya 
families settled in Jammu. 
(Photo: Rudra Rakshit)
However, most of these prescribed remedies for statelessness fall short of recognising the sheer scale of everyday problems that refugees encounter. Their children are born on the run or in unregistered refugee camps, far from government hospitals and necessary bureaucratic apparatus. Documentation is lost or is altogether non-existent, and if they don’t possess valid documents, many stateless persons are denied political asylum and are sometimes jailed in the countries to which they flee. They are then deported to yet another state that also detains them. In the process, they often fall prey to human traffickers and their families or communities are forced to pay ransoms.

Not having a nationality prevents them from legally working, travelling, marrying, receiving healthcare, having access to education and registering births and deaths in any country they go to. It is no different for the Rohingyas in Jammu. The fastest and most efficient temporary solution would be to alleviate the daily challenges through local and international NGOs, until a more permanent political solution is found.
Read the rest here.

Please note that I have added the title sentence in parenthesis.  The original title is "When There’s No Place Called Home".
Comment: The Rohingya settlement referred to in this article is in Kassim Nagar in Narwal just outside of Jammu.  Rohingya refugees have settled there in the last five years.

This article gives an interwoven and layered insight into the plight of the community. 

What stands out for me is that the international community is slow to recognize that the Rohingya are facing a willful genocide. 

A major reason for this is the fact of racism and Islamophobia (for a lack of a better term).  In other words, these dark skinned people who are Muslim elicit very little sympathy from those who sit in power positions.

If they were white and Christian it would be an entirely different matter.

As it stands now the Rohingya are among the most persecuted people anywhere in the world and hardly any fuss is being made in diplomatic circles or the mainstream media.

In these contexts the quote by Hannah Arendt is apropos in that it presses us to reconsider what a human being is in human rights law.

How human are the Rohingya inside of human rights law when they face a genocide and few in the international community seem even remotely concerned?


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