Far from Myanmar, their homeland, here they feel safe, but these 85 Rohingyas are not at home in the refugee camp in Kelambakkam. Dingy rooms that barely have ventilation, narrow stairways, cluttered spaces and untidy surroundings — the camp located on the outskirts of Chennai paints a sorry picture.
The deplorable living conditions probably don’t bother the Rohingya Muslims as much as they should, for they are happy to be alive. But does it give them a decent quality of life? No.
Space is the biggest constraint, a factor that is driving many refugees away from the camps. Each room is barely 10*8 square feet — stacked with utensils, mats, clothes and broken furniture for an average of four people living in it. Old sarees and shawls separate one room from another.
Open defecation is common at the camp, due to shortage of toilets.
The front yard and the common kitchen have sacks of clothes and abandoned furniture and have become a breeding ground for mosquitoes. “The rooms are so hot that we sleep on the ground floor and in the front yard. We take bath at least four times a day to prevent rashes and skin infections,” says a refugee in the camp.
“Our children are older now. People are migrating, as it is hard for six people to adjust in a small room,” said another refugee. “But it is not right of us to demand. We are happy that the government provided us with shelter and schooling for our children,” he added.
At least 11 Rohingyas, including children, have migrated to other camps in Bangladesh and Jammu and Kashmir over the past eight months. “A total of 94 Rohingyas including 52 children are living in the Kelambakkam camp,” according to statistics (as on September 2018) from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR).
The instances of Indian government deporting Rohingyas and not welcoming new refugees has created a sense of insecurity among the Kelambakkam refugees. Meanwhile, the continuing violence and death of their kin at Myanmar add to the distress of the Rohingya fraternity. “My relative was killed a month ago. Whenever I learn such news, I only hope that the Indian government will continue to be friendly,” said one refugee, seeking anonymity.
(with reporting by Laasya Shekhar)