Indian riot victims ‘forcibly removed’ from refugee camp

Her daughter Sasyat Harun, 13, died at Loi relief camp from malaria and exposure three months ago.

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The family’s story is just one of the devastating consequences of the fallout from the rioting between Muslims and Hindus last September in two communities, in the Shamli and Muzaffarnagar districts.

The violence, which left 65 people dead and about 50,000 displaced, was sparked by the killing of three men who had objected to the harassment of a young woman.

Thousands from the Muslim community were forced to flee their homes and seek shelter at one of the 40 camps temporarily set up to house those affected by the violence.

But the poor living conditions in the camps have come under intense scrutiny following a government report that revealed up to 34 children below 15 had died in the camps since September 7.

Officials have denied media reports children died from the cold, but residents have said otherwise.

However, Loi camp, which housed about 6000 people, has since been destroyed. It is unclear why.

Many families told SBS they were forcibly removed so the government could avoid further embarrassment. 

Officials, however, said people had left voluntarily.

Whatever the reason, with no government compensation to build new homes and refusing to return to their villages because of fear, many families have been forced to seek shelter anywhere they can.

In a rundown, abandoned building in a small village in Shamli, more than 100 people tried to protect themselves from plummeting temperatures.

“We don’t have any money. We are hopeless. We don’t have anything. We feel very insecure here,” Islam, who was evicted from Loi relief camp, said.

“The future of us is very scary. No one cares about us. The government said that if we left Loi we would receive rationing. But it has been a week and we have not received anything.”

Women are also reluctant to return home because they said police had failed to investigate numerous rape claims.

Meanwhile, the Uttar Pradesh government is also allegedly pressuring riot victims at other relief camps to vacate.

At Khuragon relief camp in the Shamli district, residents said they would not return to their villages, even if their makeshift tents were destroyed.

“People were firing at my house,” camp resident, Javed, said.

“I am not going back. We have not received any government help. They’re pressuring us leave. They told us to go anywhere but here. We won’t leave.’

Delhi-based lawyer and activist Shehzad Poonawalla said he was campaigning against the “forcible evictions”.

“The Uttar Pradesh government wants to get rid of all the camps,” he said.

“They don’t want them to exist anymore because the longer they exist, the more journalists write about the horrific living conditions here.”

Mr Poonawalla has called on the government to move riot-affected people to empty government schools and buildings to protect them from the cold.

He has also demanded the government give people two months ration, that their damaged property be repaired and they be adequately compensated.

Mr Poonawalla added that if the government did not rehabilitate the victims, he would bring them to New Delhi to continue the protest.

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