Thousands of Rohingya are 'safe' in Nepal, but hunger is the enemy
The country does not recognise their refugee status nor grant them work permits. Refugees know the country is poor, but they are dying. For Nepali minister, there is no immediate solution.
Kathmandu (AsiaNews) – Thousands of Rohingya Muslim families have managed to reach Nepal. However, the country – poor and small – has denied them refugee status and permission to work.
Nepal has not signed the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees, nor its 1967 Protocol. It has granted protection only to Tibetans and Bhutanese.
The UN High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) has set up some refugee camps in Bangladesh and India for Rohingya fleeing Myanmar, but as a result of a crackdown on refugees in India, more than 40,000 have left for Nepal.
“We are asking nothing but [the right] to live,” said Salauddin Khan, one of the refugees at the UNHCR camps. "We know that Nepal is poor and that nearly 40 million Nepali (sic) work abroad. But we have one life and we do not want to die. If Nepal could recognise us as refugees, we could work here for humble jobs and get what we need to live. How much longer can we live with nothing but two donated meals? "
"My husband was killed in Myanmar and I came to Nepal with my three children,” said Riya Khatun, a mother of three. “Putting aside their education and future, now I'm worried about what to give them to eat."
She too is aware of Nepal's problems, but she complains that it is "harder to live in a poor country without status. We are safer in Nepal than in India and Bangladesh in the sense that no one is trying to kill us, but we suffer more without money, food or work permits."
Abu Takir, a young 18-year-old Rohingya in Kathmandu, agrees. "No one is attacking us, but we are dying as we are chained with no legal status nor work to earn money.”
The Rohingya are considered by the United Nations as "the most persecuted minority in the world". They are not counted among the 135 ethnic groups recognised by the Myanmar government and are therefore stateless – without citizenship, voting rights, adequate access to education and health or right to own property.
On 25 August, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), an armed group set up a few years ago, carried out a series of attacks that sparked a violent response on the part of the Myanmar Armed Forces.
Meanwhile in Nepal, anyone overstaying in the country on a tourist visa can expect a fine worth US$ 6.
Anyone who stays for four or five years may find themselves with a debt of thousands of dollars. Even if they are resettled in a third country, they might not be allowed to leave the country without paying the fine.
“This is not Ministry level work,” said Nepal’s Home Affairs Minister Janaran Sharma. "I can only help them by not prosecuting them using the police force. The government should decide on the basis of laws and practices. We can do nothing immediately.”