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New Delhi, India Police and civil authorities in the Indian capital have demolished a makeshift mosque in a Rohingya camp, refugees say, weeks after a massive fire engulfed the settlement.
The mosque, made of tarpaulin and bamboo sticks, was bulldozed at the camp in the Madanpur Khader area of New Delhi in the south of the city, bordering the state of Uttar Pradesh, around 7 a.m. local time (01:30 GMT) on Thursday.
Nearly 300 refugees, most of whom had fled a brutal military crackdown in neighboring Buddhist-majority Myanmar, told Al Jazeera the building had been demolished, despite calling on authorities not to do so.
The Muslim-majority Rohingya say they have no place to worship.
“The degradation started an hour after the Fajr prayers in the mosque,” Mohammad, 33, who wanted to be identified only by his first name for fear of reprisals, told Al Jazeera.
“They first destroyed the toilets and washrooms, uprooted a water hand pump and then demolished the mosque – all within 10 minutes.”
He said that when the refugees tried to protest, officials instead told them they were “illegal immigrants” living in the camp by “invading the country”.
“I told them this is our place of worship, but they said you talk a lot,” Mohammad said.
“To us a mosque is like the Hindus have temples. What they did is totally wrong, but we are powerless.”
Obaidullah, a young Rohingya boy, said he was angry and his eyes filled up when he saw the demolition of the mosque, but he “could do nothing to stop them”.
A police officer from nearby Kalindi Kunj Police Station told Al Jazeera that the demolished structure was not a mosque, but just a dilapidated shack. He declined to answer further questions.
Pravir Singh, the area’s subdivision magistrate, told Al Jazeera he was unaware of the mosque’s demolition, adding that he was not authorized to make an official statement on the matter.
On June 13 last month, the camp of more than 50 refugee families living in ramshackle shelters was destroyed by a massive fire – the second time the camp had been reduced to ashes since 2018.
A small part of the mosque, located at the entrance to the camp, was damaged by the fire, forcing the refugees to live in tents provided by local non-profit organizations and activists.
Activist Aasif Mujataba, whose group Miles to Smile is helping the Rohingya and cooperating with the government in their rehabilitation, said officials claimed the camp, including the mosque, was on degraded land.
Thus the mosque was razed to the ground. A clear inhumane act. We want to treat guests like gods, but this is the reality. We are hypocratic and Islamophobic.
What a shameless act.#rohingya #rohingyacrisis
— Aasif Mujtaba (@MujtabaAasif) July 22, 2021
Shamsheeda Khatoon, a 27-year-old Rohingya woman, claimed the mosque’s demolition was “well-planned”. She said officials set up tents on the road outside the camp on Wednesday.
“They asked the refugees living in tents in the part of the camp that falls in the state of Uttar Pradesh to move to the tents along the road. Then this morning they demolished the toilets, water pipes and the mosque,” she said.
“They did not allow us to even remove the copies of the Quran and other religious books.”
Khatoon said the demolition of toilets and water pumps has raised concerns among women in the camp. “We don’t have a place to defecate, bathe or wash clothes now.”
An estimated 40,000 Rohingya refugees, many 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 given some of them a refugee card, which gives them access to basic services and should protect them from police action.
In 2017, more than 750,000 Rohingya sought shelter in Bangladesh after Myanmar’s military launched a brutal crackdown against the Rohingya, which the UN says was carried out with “genocidal intent”.
Bangladesh is currently holding more than a million Rohingya in cramped and squalid camps along the border with Myanmar. Large numbers of them have also sought refuge in neighboring Asian countries, including India and Malaysia.
“The Rohingya lead a hard life in India, where they also face hatred and violence from right-wing Hindu groups,” said activist Mujtaba.
“First they lost their huts to fire and now their mosque and toilets have been destroyed. This is a blatant violation of the religious human rights of the refugees.”
Ali Johar, a Rohingya community activist in New Delhi, told Al Jazeera that “refugees are people too and the right to religion is a fundamental right in India”.
“Demolition of their mosque in this way is painful to say the least,” he said. “The government should take a compassionate approach to Rohingya so that we don’t have to rebuild our lives over and over.”
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