Abu Thakar, now 24 years old, was only 16 years old when he and his newlywed wife finally made it to Kathmandu, dubbed “the Promised Land,” after a one-month-long arduous journey.
His family and friends had traveled hundreds of kilometers on foot or by hitchhiking from strangers, as well as trespassed multiple cross-country borders, in order to escape violent communal conflict in his hometown in Myanmar’s Rakhine state. He was instructed to travel to Kathmandu and locate a mosque, as this was their last resort for saving lives.
It was in October 2012 that a team from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in Nepal (UNHCR Nepal) arrived in Kathmandu to rescue Thakar and his wife from below the Bishnumati river bridge, where they had been hiding for four days after arriving in Kathmandu.
Thakar, one of the first Myanmar refugees to arrive in the United States, is now overcome with emotion as he recalls those difficult days. “The memory of fleeing my home country is like a hazy nightmare in my mind. Actually, I have no recollection of how I ended up in this strange city, without knowing the language, with no understanding of the culture, and with no money at such a young age.” “All I knew was that I had to get to Kathmandu, a promised safe haven, in order to save my life, as told to me by elders back in my village,” he continued, “and that I had to get there quickly.”
Thakar is one of the earliest arriving refugees from Myanmar, who, as previously stated, had considered Nepal to be a safe haven. However, as time progressed, the number of Rohingya community members began to increase, with a particularly large influx following the outbreak of brutal violence in 2017.
Over 400 refugees with similar stories are now housed in two temporary settlements amongst the local community, below a hillock at Kapan, on the northern outskirts of the valley, below a hillock at Kapan, on the northern outskirts of the valley.
Following Thakar’s arrival, an increasing number of Rohingya Muslims from the northern part of Rakhine state illegally managed to enter Kathmandu, resulting in a greater influx of refugees after brutal violence erupted in 2017.
They had undertaken a difficult journey of more than 1,200 kilometers, crossing borders in Bangladesh, India, and finally entering Nepal over the course of the previous decade.
Initially, they considered Kathmandu to be a safe haven because they would not be in danger of losing their lives here, and because survival had been their primary goal in life for the previous days. However, the growing population, indifference from the government and international community, as well as a lack of suitable employment opportunities, have begun to have an impact on their daily lives. Because they have nowhere else to go, the Rohingya Muslims are now facing an uncertain future.
When THT arrived, half a dozen Rohingyas, all under the age of 30, had gathered inside a small makeshift tent at the center of their dark and damp settlement, which was constructed of rusted corroborated zinc sheets. They had gathered to find a solution to yet another pressing issue, this time that of finding a new place to live.
According to the settlement’s local landlord, who had rented them the nearly uninhabitable slop land at Rammandir in Kapan in order to establish the settlement, they must vacate their premises by 2022.
Until 2016, the Rohngyas were supported by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Kathmandu, with around Rs 15,000 in monthly allowances to each family to help them survive. They were able to construct the settlement out of rusted corroborated sheets and other waste products in 2015 as a result of this assistance. They had agreed to a rental agreement with the landlord for Rs 240,000 per year. “However, the landlord has requested that we vacate the premises by 2022,” Mohhamad Ayub, 27, one of the community’s leaders, explained. “We have nowhere else to go at this point,” he continued.
At the time of the incident, there were a total of 17 Rohingya families in the camp. In 2016, they were joined by an additional 16 families, but unfortunately, UNHCR’s assistance was terminated the same year due to a lack of funds, according to the refugee camp. Since then, the refugees have managed to pay the rent of Rs 240,000 to the landlord at Rammandir out of their own hard-earned money, despite the difficulties they have faced. However, following a recent notice from the landlord, their fear of an uncertain future has begun to become more serious.
“We feel completely helpless because we don’t know what to do next and because we may be forced to leave this land where we are currently residing,” said Mohammad Aalam, a refugee leader in the settlement who is 27 years old. As Aalam, who provides for his family of five members, put it: “There is no one to support and guide us anymore, and we are unsure of how our lives will progress moving forward.”
This isn’t the first time they’ve encountered a problem along these lines. Since 1012, they have been relocating their settlements from one location to another throughout the valley and beyond in order to find a secure place to live. However, it wasn’t until 2018 that another group was able to secure some private land in Lasuntar that was worth a similar amount per year, about 500 meters downhill. Refugees in the second camp, on the other hand, are concerned about the possibility of being evacuated from there as well. Rafid Amin, a 23-year-old refugee boy at the Lasuntar camp, stated, “We are afraid that the landlord will force us to leave this place because we have heard from the locals that we have become a source of trouble.”
Despite their cries for help, the government has done little to assist them, despite the fact that they have been turning a deaf ear to their cries for help for years. Nepal is not a party to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, nor to its 1967 Protocol, nor does it have any national legislation specifically addressing the issue of refugees. Because they are not subject to any direct international obligations, these Rohingyas, who once led a prosperous life in their home country, are regarded as ‘illegal immigrants’ in Nepal.
The government has expressed no interest in adopting the convention, citing the country’s geographic location, and has been refusing to adopt the refugee convention during the Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations Human Rights Council, citing the country’s geographical location. Deputy Secretary at the Law and Human Rights Division of the Prime Minister’s Office Dhanraj Gyawali said Nepal has clarified its position at the Universal Periodic Review and that the government’s position on legal structures has been made clear to the international community.
Nepal’s Immigration Act states that any foreigners, with the exception of Indian nationals, who enter the country without valid visas or paper documents will be considered illegal immigrants and will be prosecuted. It also prohibits anyone from overstaying in the country for a period of time longer than that which has been approved by the authorities.
The Rohingya refugees are struggling to make ends meet because they are not receiving adequate recognition and assistance from donor agencies. “We used to have a lot of farmland and could easily provide enough food for our large family for a year just by working a few months each year. Now, I’m struggling to make enough money to provide my family with two basic meals a day “Mohammad Aaiyas, 39, is the sole breadwinner for his family of eight members, according to him.
Only the male members of the family are permitted to work in the community, and they are frequently employed in the informal sector as day laborers or as daily wage earners. According to Mohammad Amin, a 21-year-old refugee from the Lasuntaar refugee camp in Kapan, “Many days we don’t have any work to do, and sometimes even when we do get work, some of the fraud contractors won’t pay us as promised once they find out that we are refugees.”
The Ministry of Home Affairs, which has been in charge of the security and humanitarian aspects of the refugees’ situation, is more concerned with preventing the refugees from becoming involved in criminal activity than it is with providing humanitarian assistance. However, it is treating the refugees more as a security threat rather than as people who must be helped under humanitarian conditions.
Joint-secretary Fadindramani Pokharel, who also serves as the ministry’s spokesperson, stated, “For the time being, we have granted them permission to remain in the country on humanitarian grounds. However, we will not allow anyone else to enter the country in the future at our discretion.” The official went on to say, “Those who are residing here are also expected to comply with the country’s rules and regulations, as the number of instances of them being involved in illegal activities is increasing.”
The Nepal Police detained three foreigners in the first week of August, two of whom were Rohingya refugees who had been issued an asylum seeker card by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). Those detained were accused of trafficking in other Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh and swindling more than Rs 300,000 from a single individual, among other things. According to the FIR, the trafficking victim stated that he was lured in by the claim that Rohingya refugees would be transported to the United States by the end of 2022. It had taken approximately ten days for the accused traffickers to transport the victim from a refugee camp in Bangladesh to Kathmandu, according to the police. Another Bangladeshi national has been apprehended, and a third Bangladeshi national is still on the run from authorities.
“We are taking these incidents seriously because similar incidents could spiral out of control in the future if they continue. This is important because it poses a threat to domestic violence as well as national security. We want to make certain that no one else enters the country in a similar manner “Chief of the Anti-human Trafficking Bureau, Senior Superintendent of Police Durga Singh Chand, made the statement.
The other Rohingyas have been intimidated by this incident, and they are now afraid to leave their settlements. “We are unable to travel very far from our settlements because we do not have any identification here; we do not have SIM cards to communicate; we are unable to ride a motorcycle; we are unable to find a decent job; and we are unable to secure education for our children,” Aalam explained. He went on to say, “We are merely surviving,” and he continued.
They have been left in a bind as a result of the government’s harsh policies and the lack of support from the international community. They have nowhere to turn now.
Refugees should be allowed to exercise their right to life and other fundamental rights, according to Nirajan Thapaliya, Director of Amnesty International Nepal. Nepal has ratified a number of international human rights treaties, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. As a signatory to the Declaration of Human Rights, Thapaliya stated that Nepal must protect the fundamental rights of those seeking asylum in the country. “There is no reason for Nepal to adopt extremist tactics and force them to leave the country.. Furthermore, it must protect fundamental rights on humanitarian grounds and provide them with refugee identification cards so that they can live a dignified life.”