Youth

A picture paints a thousand words: Rohingya children brush away their fears in new home Kashmir

In one of the largest makeshift shelters for Rohingya in the Kiryana Talab area of Jammu and Kashmir, 10-year-old Parveena Bibi often asks for her parents.

There are many children like Parveena who live an uncertain life in these temporary shelters in the region, many of them separated from their parents.

Some of these children have started drawing in recent months depicting their disrupted lives through art, painting their desires to live a normal life surrounded by their loved ones.

“According to figures by the Development and Justice Initiative (DAJI), a non-governmental organisation that works with the UNHCR, an estimated 10,000 Rohingya refugees live in India. Of that figure, more than 6,000 Rohingya refugees reside in the 39 refugee camps of Jammu”

Parveena says she likes to draw on a piece of paper whenever she misses her parents the most. It helps make her feel somewhat better.

“Acha lagta hai (It feels good to draw),” she says in a cryptic, broken Urdu language.

Similarly, 12-year-old Shafeeqa – whose mother and father have been held in a detention centre since last year – finds solace in drawing sketches of flowers and her house. It depicts happier times.

Over the years, thousands of Rohingya Muslims have faced persecution in Myanmar which has forced them to flee. Many have now settled in India.

Whilst most Rohingya took shelter in Bangladesh, thousands of Rohingya refugees crossed over to India and settled in temporary shelters in different states including in the former state of Jammu and Kashmir region, which has been recently downgraded into a federally governed territory after the ruling BJP government unilaterally revoked the autonomous status of the region on August 5, 2019.

India has received Rohingya refugees from Myanmar since 2008, a figure which intensified in 2012 when anti-Rohingya persecution increased in neighbouring Myanmar.

According to figures by the Development and Justice Initiative (DAJI), a non-governmental organisation that works with the UNHCR, an estimated 10,000 Rohingya refugees are in India. Of that figure, more than 6,000 Rohingya refugees live in 39 refugee camps located within the Jammu region.

Thousands of Rohingya refugees live in temporary shelters in the Kiryana Talab area of the Jammu region. However, refugees have started leaving the Jammu region after authorities detained more than 200 Rohingya refugees in “holding centres” last year for living there without official documentation.

The refugees were later sent to Hiranagar Jail in the Kathua district of Jammu, where they languish.  Many children of these Rohingya refugees were separated from their parents as a result.

According to the refugees at the camp, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, there are more than half a dozen families with around 50 children in Kiryani Talab camp whose parents have been detained in Hiranagar jail for months. Some of their parents have spent more than one year in Jail.

“Those kids of jailed refugees can only look through a small window to see their parent’s faces, they can barely see anything,” said a Rohingya refugee at the camp. “The kids start crying when they can’t see their parents. Parents inside the jail also start weeping when they see their children crying.”

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