New Delhi, India – Police and civil authorities in the Indian capital demolished a makeshift mosque in a Rohingya camp, refugees say, weeks after a massive fire ravaged the settlement.
The mosque, made up of tarpaulins and bamboo sticks, was razed Thursday at around 7:00 a.m. local time (01:30 GMT) in the camp located in the Madanpur Khader district of New Delhi, in the south of the city, on the border with the ‘State of Uttar Pradesh.
Nearly 300 refugees, most of whom fled a brutal military crackdown in neighboring, predominantly Buddhist Myanmar, told Al Jazeera the structure was demolished despite appeals to authorities not to do so.
The Muslim-majority Rohingya say they found themselves without a place of worship.
“The demotion started an hour after the Fajr prayers in the mosque,” Mohammad, 33, told Al Jazeera, who wanted to be identified by his first name only for fear of reprisals.
“They first destroyed the toilets and toilets, uprooted a manual water pump, and then demolished the mosque, all within 10 minutes. “
He said that when the refugees tried to protest, officials told them instead that they were “illegal immigrants” living in the camp by “encroaching on the land”.
“I told them it was our place of worship but they said you talked a lot,” Mohammad said.
“For us, a mosque is like the Hindus have temples. What they did is totally wrong, but we are powerless.
Obaidullah, a Rohingya youth, said he felt angry and his eyes filled with tears when he saw the demolition of the mosque, but that he “could not do anything to stop them”.
A police official from the nearby Kalindi Kunj Police Station told Al Jazeera that the demolished structure was not a mosque, but just a dilapidated hut. He declined to answer further questions.
Pravir Singh, the area’s divisional magistrate, told Al Jazeera he was not aware of the demolition of the mosque, adding that he was not competent to make an official statement about it.
On June 13 last month, the camp, which houses more than 50 refugee families living in dilapidated shelters, was destroyed in a massive fire – the second time the camp has been burnt down since 2018.
A small part of the mosque, located at the entrance to the camp, was damaged by the fire, which forced the refugees to live in tents provided by local associations and activists.
Activist Aasif Mujataba, whose Miles to Smile group is assisting the Rohingya and working with the government in their rehabilitation, said officials alleged the camp, including the mosque, was on encroached land.
– Aasif Mujtaba (@MujtabaAasif) July 22, 2021
Shamsheeda Khatoon, a 27-year-old Rohingya woman, said the demolition of the mosque was “well planned”. She said officials set up tents on the road outside the camp on Wednesday.
“They asked the refugees living in tents located in the part of the camp that falls in the state of Uttar Pradesh to relocate to the tents by the road. Then today morning, they demolished the toilets, the water supply pipes and the mosque, ”she said.
“They didn’t even allow us to take out copies of the Quran and other religious books.”
Khatoon said the demolition of the toilets and water pumps raised sanitation issues among the women in the camp. “We now have no place to defecate, bathe or wash clothes.”
An estimated 40,000 Rohingya refugees, many of whom are believed to be undocumented, live in cramped camps in Indian cities including Jammu, Hyderabad and Nuh in Haryana state.
The United Nations refugee agency has provided some of them with refugee cards, which help them access basic services and are supposed to protect them from police intervention.
More than 750,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh in 2017 after the Burmese military launched a brutal crackdown on the Rohingya, which the UN says was carried out with “genocidal intent”.
Bangladesh currently houses more than a million Rohingya in cramped and squalid camps along its border with Myanmar. Many of them have also sought refuge in neighboring Asian countries, including India and Malaysia.
“The Rohingya are living a difficult life in India, where they also face hatred and violence from right-wing Hindu groups,” said Mujtaba, the activist.
“First they lost their huts in the fire and now their mosque and toilets have been destroyed. This is a blatant violation of the religious human rights of refugees.
Ali Johar, an activist from the Rohingya community in New Delhi, told Al Jazeera that “refugees are also humans and the right to religion is a fundamental right in India”.
“Demolishing their mosque in this way is hurtful to say the least,” he said. “The government should take a compassionate approach to the Rohingya so that we don’t have to rebuild our lives over and over again. “