The Capital is home to thousands of refugees. While some are overwhelmed by their new life, many have started making it their home
“India is our second home. It is home to many of us refugees,” says Swanye, who owns a shop along the road at Majnu Ka Tila. According to the data provided by United Nations High Commissioners for Refugees (UNHCR), there are around 24,000 registered refugees in India, many of whom stay in the Capital.
These refugees are mostly from Tibet, Burma, Afghanistan, Somalia, Iran, Iraq and Ethiopia, and have come here for reasons ranging from fear of persecution and wars, to disagreement with government policies. They live in various pockets like Tilak Nagar, Mahavir Nagar, Lajpat Nagar, Budela and Majnu Ka Tila.
Majnu Ka Tila is home to Tibetan refugees. “We are happy to settle here. The greatest help that we have from the Indian Government is that they let us stay here,” says one of the refugees. According to Tobdan Tsering, cashier of Tibetan Refugee Welfare Association, the refugees are in a good state here because “The colony has been recognised by the Government. Our children go to schools. We don’t have any problem here.” His view is echoed by Nyodup, vice president of the Tibetan Refugee Welfare Association, who says, “We don’t live here as refugees anymore. Over the years we have become self sustaining.”
Hameed Ghiasy, manager and singer for the band Yuva Beats and self-proclaimed “Rocker Boy”, carries with him a painful past. “My family had to leave Afghanistan because my father used to get threatening calls. There was no security there. My music and I were expressionless there.” Most of the refugees feel that they have freedom of expression here. If something goes wrong, they can contact UNHCR or the police. “We do face problems like not getting a job because we don’t have proper identification cards and at times we even struggle to get medical facilities. But I want to be heard. My music will talk for all the refugees someday,” he says hopefully.
On the contrary, Kassim Isse Dhuhulow, a Somali refugee, is vocal in his criticism of the authorities. “No one is helpful. Everyone is corrupt. I have even written to the higher authorities. We don’t have money and at times it’s hard to even get the basic necessities,” he says.
Kyawthan, a resident of the Chin Burmese community at Budhela (Uttam Nagar), feels that “There has been a cosmetic change in the policies (back in Myanmar) and we fear that we might get killed if we go back.” Talking of the situation now, Kyawthan says “Our children go to school here and we survive by working and making handicrafts.” The Rohingya Burmese people were forced out of the country last year and found their way into Delhi. The Zakat Foundation of India(ZFI) has allowed them to stay on a 1,100 square yard plot situated in Madanpur Khadar. “They are around 140 Rohingya refugees who reside here. They have very little to survive. We encourage them by being the facilitators to get them jobs. UNHCR takes care of them, but not much is being done,” states Dr. Syed Zafar Mahmood, president of ZFI.
Delhi is looked upon by the refugees as a place of shelter and security. Being very optimistic about life, Hameed says, “We should not live a life where people look at us and feel pity. When God has sent us to the world, we certainly have the right to live and choose our ways. These manmade borders cannot stop me.”