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A Life in Limbo

A recent report shows that the Nepalese government sees the Rohingya refugees in Kathmandu as a major problem. Because they are not recognized as refugees, they are not entitled to anything and are dependent on local aid initiatives.

Originally published in Dutch in De Groene Amsterdammer nr. 15, April 12, 2023.

Noor Hafiz, a Rohingya refugee, standing in front of a settlement in Kathmandu holding his one-year-old son.
Noor Hafiz and his son in Kathmandu. Photo by Inge Oosterhoff.

From the threshold of his home, Sayyad Hussein (37) looks out over the whole of Kathmandu. Thousands of scooters, cars and rickshaws drive between the pastel-colored houses far below him. Women dressed in saris move like colorful dots through the winding side streets. The contrast with the view behind him is striking. Corrugated metal sheets stick out crookedly from the ground, assembled into makeshift houses with broken curtains and planks for doors. Electricity wires and washing lines with pajamas, T-shirts, trousers, and children's clothing hang criss-cross between the roofs. The first drops of a monsoon shower turn the dust in the alleys into mud, sending everyone indoors as the call to prayer sounds through the Rohingya camp.

“I thought it would get easier, but it just keeps getting harder,” Sayyad sighs. Dressed in black jeans, a faded blue Nike shirt and a white Taqiyah (a traditional Islamic headdress), he sits cross-legged on the woven mat that covers the dust floor of his small living room. Next to him, a fan blows frantically through the monsoon heat, at least when the electrical grid works. His wife Noor Jaahaan prepares chicken and rice for lunch behind a piece of metal sheet that separates the kitchen from the living room, while their four-year-old daughter looks on curiously.

Sayyad previously lived in India, where, as a Rohingya, he was considered a terrorist by the Indian government. Before that, he lived in a refugee camp in Bangladesh. When his brother-in-law, Mohammed Aayas, encouraged him to come to Nepal in 2015, Sayyad did not hesitate. Mohammed was one of the first Rohingya to enter Nepal in 2013. He told Sayyas that the language was easy to learn and work was easy to find. But most importantly, Rohingya were not persecuted in Nepal.

Like Sayyad and Mohammed, about four hundred other Rohingya fled to Kathmandu between 2012 and 2017. They hoped to escape the violence and discrimination in their home country of Myanmar, to build a life for themselves, and a future for their children. But the longer Sayyad is here, the greater his doubts whether that dream will ever come true.

Read the rest of the article (in Dutch) here.


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