Indians rally to help Rohingya refugee fire victims
After a blaze tore through a settlement in New Delhi making 219 refugees homeless, their neighbours, aid organizations and NGOs are helping them to start over.
NEW DELHI, India – After the flames ripped through the ramshackle huts of Madanpur Khader, in south-east New Delhi, Meeran Haider was among locals who scrambled to help the Rohingya refugees who lived there.
“When we learned about the discrimination and suffering they have endured, we felt that it is our duty to help them,” says Meeran, a student at nearby Jamia Milia Islamia University in the Indian capital. “Having lost everything in the fire, the most urgent concern for them was safe shelter.”
Many of the Rohingya refugees already knew what it was to lose everything, after fleeing their homes in Myanmar. The fire, which swept through the makeshift settlement on 15 April, was yet another cruel blow.
No lives were lost, but a number suffered minor burns and injuries, and 219 refugees lost their homes, savings, shops, schoolbooks and tools. They also lost their refugee cards, which were immediately reissued by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency.
"We felt that it is our duty to help them."
NGOs, charitable organizations, private donors and neighbours rallied in support, setting up emergency shelters and providing medical assistance. They also donated clothes, bedding and other household items. UNHCR coordinated the emergency response together with other UN agencies, NGOs and civil society actors.
Sameer, 30, fled Myanmar in 2012 and had worked hard to rebuild his life in India. Before the fire, he earned a living by fixing electric motors in his small shop in the settlement.
“My family lost everything, including all our savings,” he says. “I had 17 motors in my house that I hoped to sell – they are all gone. But we are relieved that our children are safe.”
- See also: Rohingya refugee emergency at a glance
Mother-of-two Fatima, 25, lost her small shop in the fire. But with some cash assistance from local NGOs and small loans from her relatives, she was able to restart her business. “I feel secure in India. It is a place if one works hard, one can grow,” she says.
The ongoing plight of more than 670,000 Rohingya refugees who fled targeted violence and serious human rights violations in Myanmar for Bangladesh has captured global headlines. Often, people walked for days through the forest to reach safety, including pregnant women, young children, the sick and the elderly.
But even before this most recent crisis began in August last year, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees had fled previous bouts of violence in Myanmar dating back to the 1970s. Many are now scattered in countries across South and South-East Asia.
“My family lost everything, including all our savings."
India hosts 17,500 Rohingya refugees and asylum-seekers registered with UNHCR. While UNHCR assistance programmes provide basic support, many among them are poor, work in low paid jobs and live in crowded settlements with limited access to essential services such as safe shelter, water, electricity and toilets.
“It is important for refugees to feel included in societies hosting them,” says Yasuko Shimizu, UNHCR's chief of mission in India. “We are impressed by the overwhelming support from the Indian community. India and her people once again demonstrated their extraordinary hospitality to refugees during this emergency.”
The help that the community received after the blaze particularly touched day labourer Amir, 33, who has used an e-rickshaw donated by an Indian NGO to earn a modest living ferrying passengers and goods around the settlement.
“People from all religions and backgrounds came together to help us,” he says. “I have not experienced this kind of love and acceptance in a long time.”