Source Asianage, 17 Sept
Foreign refugees in India have a long list of complaints against the UNHCR on various grounds such as issuance of I-cards, financial assistance, differential treatment between refugees and neglect.
On refugees, the UNHCR and the Indian government have a division of labour, says the UNHCR chief of mission in India, Dominik Bartsch.
Rohingyas are critical of the agency for its better treatment of Chins (Myanmarese Christians who are relatively well-off in Delhi) vis-à-vis health, education and financial aid.
Somalians pillory it for corruption and neglect. Kassim, a Somalian blogger and freelance journalist, claims that the UNHCR has been a mute spectator to the privations of his compatriots, who are starving to death for want of financial assistance in India.
At Madanpur Khadar in New Delhi, almost no Rohingya family get any subsistence allowance, reveals a UNHRC source. Initially, they were given around Rs 1,000-2,000 per month, depending on their vulnerability, the source adds.
On the issue of subsistence allowance, Mr Bartsch notes that around 10-20 per cent of the UNHCR-assisted refugees get monetary help. “You have to recognise that we have not been able to provide support in a wholesome manner to all the refugees. We are only able to provide direct assistance to those who are most vulnerable. It is a small minority, around 10-20 per cent, who receive direct assistance from the UNHCR and get something tangible. For the majority, our support is around livelihoods, including vocational training with our partners to prepare refugees for jobs.”
When asked about differential treatment between Chins and Rohingyas, Mr Bartsch says the term was an emotive one and denied discrimination by the UNHCR.
“Chins and Rohingyas are living in different circumstances. The former have been living in India for long; hence, they have a strong community network. When it comes to Rohingyas, many of them are recent arrivals and they are not all residing in Delhi. We have not been able to reach all of them in the various sites outside Delhi,” he explained.
Hitting out at the UNHCR, a Rohingya mocks, “If the UNHCR is not able to reach out to non-Delhi refugees how can they claim to cover the whole world?”
Rohingyas also claim that the agency does nothing to prevent human trafficking, bonded-labour and prostitution.
“Our compatriots are languishing in Kolkata jails. If the (refugee) agency strives to get them freed, the jail authorities will listen to it; but it has no will-power in this regard,” complains a Rohingya source.
Another UNHCR official reveals that six Rohingyas girls (aged 18-21) were trafficked four months ago for sex trade in Delhi, of which two died during a gangrape. The version could not be authenticated independently.
Similar modern-day slavery cases are rampant in India. “When Rohingya slaves from far-flung areas come to Delhi for UNHCR cards, they tell their harrowing tales to the agency. It means that the UNHCR is familiar with sex trade and slavery cases. But it does nothing to improve the situation,” the source added.
Another thorny issue is related to visa overstay penalties on refugees. “How can Indian government charge us for visa overstay especially when we are uncertain about our next meal?” is an oft-repeated complaint.
“Legislation is needed to define the status of refugees and make it compatible with the Foreigner’s Act, which is in black and white: A person has either arrived legally in the country or illegally; there is no provision for someone to explain why he was obliged to run away,” notes Mr Bartsch.