By Dr. M Shahid Siddiqui
On World Humanitarian Day, it would be very perfect to remember a real life fighter Muhammad Ali, who once said, “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth”. And like him many others are struggling and fighting circumstances to serve the larger human end. But, the services of humanitarian workers and beneficiaries in crisis yet suffers from world’s attention deficit. Hence, to make the unnoticed get noticed, every year 19th August, World Humanitarian Day means a lot for me. This is the day dedicated to humanitarian activist worldwide to ignite the value of assistance and companionship that humanitarian activist carry with them. In addition, this day also brings more people in creating a better understanding of humanitarian activities and recognizes the contribution and sacrifices made by humanitarian workers that have lost their lives or have faced casualties while serving in conflict zone.
However, apart from reflection many activist takes this day completely in different way with varied accounts of struggle and recognition. Ziabul (Changed Name), a rohingya refugee activist is a suitable case to cite today, whose life has been full of struggle till 2015, when he became the leader of rohingya refugee community in India.
In 2012, when violence erupted he fled from Myanmar to get shelter and a job in Bangladesh as a servant. There his master used to torture him, Ziabul said. He escaped to India but ended up in prison in West Bengal state after authorities caught him entering the country illegally. “I’ve seen my childhood crumble before my eyes,” Ziabul told in his slum in Mewat, where he now lives after being bailed out of prison in July, 2015.
And coincidently on World Humanitarian Day, he shares the same day to celebrate his birthday. But, his birthday does not constitute the same meaning or a special day that we usually recognize. For him his birthday is like any other day where he wish to serve more people of his community living in the camp in impoverished conditions.
For Ziabul this day is meaningless and has a completely different meaning. He says, “every day for us to live and die on other’s mercy. No day can give community a loaf of bread or shelter to survive unless we beg or do rag picking”.
Adding to the importance of humanitarian worker, Ziabul states that by their daily contribution in helping the people in need he does not feel like celebrating his birthday in usual way and uses his special day while recognizing the world humanitarian day as an occasion to reach out to the society and distribute publicity and information material.
For him there are no specific personal wishes that he wants to get fulfilled. All he wishes is that world to give attention for a better understanding of the issues that rohingya community is facing worldwide, while celebrating World Humanitarian Day.
Ziabul lives today with his 37-year-old brother, in a makeshift hut in a Mewat, wasteland of Haryana state, which some 200 other Rohingya families call home. But like Ziabul, numerous other Rohingyas are not lucky to see open sky with freedom.
Like Ziabul, there are about 40,000 Rohingya refugees struggling for their daily survival. Some of them are activist, who struggle to support their own migrated community and rest do for themselves. Many of them are unnoticed and unregistered as refugees under UNHCR.
According to the bureau of Immigration, there are just around 12,000 Rohingyas in India. They are among those 200,000 migrants who fled to India from conflicts in other countries. However, India has no legal framework that recognizes or protects them as refugee.
With unavailability of bare minimum human life the people of Rohingya community now belong to no country and suffer from world’s attention deficit.
All in all this does seem like a helpless situation. How can anyone forget a population that is stateless and belongs nowhere? It would not just be easier to collectively forget. It may be easy to turn a blind eye to the Rohingya now by just forgeting the humanitarian responsibility for any international actor, but this will only enable harsher consequences a few years down the line.
International actors can choose to forget, or they can choose to take steps towards a more stable future. Today, the Rohingya are a helpless minority, but you never know what tomorrow brings.
Dr. M Shahid Siddiqui. Follow via twitter @shahidsiddiqui