By Mohammed Shafeeq
"We thank India for allowing us to stay. If the government wants to deport us, it can do it but it will be better if they kill us here instead of sending us back," says Abdul Raheem, a refugee, in a voice choked with emotion.
Anxiety is writ large on the faces of over 3,800 Rohingya Muslims living in Hyderabad amid reports that the Indian government is planning to deport them. They say they prefer to die here rather than return to Myanmar, where they face persecution.
Having lived here for over five years now, the refugees say they would not like to return to their native country to be slaughtered. They have appealed to the Indian government to drop, on humanitarian grounds, the plans to deport them.
Raheem, (32), who has been living in Hyderabad with his wife and three children since 2012, said they could think of returning to their country only after they were assured of protection of their life and property.
Another refugee, Mohammad Younus, alleged that Buddhist-majority Myanmar always went back on its assurances in the past. "This is the third time that I have become a refugee. They never kept their word," said the 63-year-old while narrating his tale of woe.
Younus, who is staying here with his wife and daughter, showed a bullet mark on his shoulder. Myanmar Army fired on him and since he was not treated in his country, he had to go to Bangladesh to remove the bullet.
Raheem says he was an agriculturist in Arkan (now Rakhine) state in Myanmar but the authorities took away his land. "We had to escape to save our lives. My two brothers went to Bangladesh but I came here," he said.
Younus was a businessman in Arkan and his property was also taken away by the government. His suffering did not end with his arrival in India. His was among 125 families which had to leave Jammu and come here about three months ago.
"Some people drove us out of our camps in Jammu. There is no end to our suffering," he said, crying inconsolably.
Like the majority of refugees, Raheem works as a daily wage labourer for Rs 500. They get the work only for 15 days in a month.
Younus runs a small shop. His two sons Zia-ul-Haq and Shams-ul-Haq are ragpickers and live with their families in separate huts. Despite this penury, they are content with their life in India.
Hyderabad has the second-largest concentration of Rohingyas after Jammu, where the number is estimated at 7,000.
The families have been living in huts or small one-room rented houses in areas like Balapur, Shaheen Nagar, Jalpally, Asad Baba Nagar, Pahadi Shareef on Hyderabad's southern periphery.
There are 16,000 Rohangiyas in India registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) but the total number is estimated to be 40,000.
In Hyderabad, there are 3,800 Rohangiyas with refugee cards. "We can talk about only those who are registered with us," said Mazher Hussain, Executive Director, Confederation of Voluntary Associations (COVA), a partnering agency with UNHCR.
Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju had told parliament last week that the states were directed to identify and deport illegal immigrants. He later told a news agency that all Rohingyas, including those registered with UNHCR, are illegal immigrants.
Rohingyas wonder why the Indian authorities viewed them as a threat to national security.
"We escaped from our country to save our lives. How can we do anything to harm this country which has given us shelter?" asked Mohammad Toha, (31), who lives in Balapur with his wife and three children.
COVA's Hussain felt that while the security concern is genuine, stigmatising the entire Rohangiya community will not help with security tracking.
"In any community there will be all sorts of people. A few people will have criminal instincts. They may engage in crime for monetary gains or indulge in anti-national activity due to ideology or anger against the government. Here we don't see any reason for Rohingyas to be angry with the Indian government or system. In fact most of them are very beholden, but you can't 100% rule out anybody," he said.
The COVA director said since the police had the record of all those who engage in the criminal activity, the authorities should keep a tab on them instead of viewing the entire community with suspicion.
Hussain was of the view that registration with UNHCR facilitates tracking of Rohingyas. "Even if they are deported they may still come and stay illegally. It is difficult to identify them as foreigners. It's also easy to get Aadhaar, PAN and other cards. That will be a bigger security threat," he explained.
(Mohammed Shafeeq can be contacted at email@example.com)