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Desolate life in India's refugee camps

Ahmedabad refugee
Some 50,000 Muslims in Gujarat are living in camps, seeking safety from Hindu attacks  

Joanna Nathan for CNN

AHMEDABAD, India Eighty-two year old Amiran Bibi has literally only the clothes she wears -- a pale yellow salwar chemeez -- to her name after fleeing a rampaging mob.

The cooking she was in the midst of was instantly forgotten when thousands of enraged Hindus stormed her neighborhood in Ahmedabad on February 28 seeking revenge for the previous day's slaughter of 59 Hindus.

Toothless and tired, Amiran Bibi is adamant that she will never go back to Saraspur, the area of Gujarat's industrial center that she spent her whole life. "There is nobody and nothing left there now."

Along with Amiran Bibi in the Hazarat Shahalam Relief Camp, bulging at the seams with over 12,000 refugees in their own country, are her eight children and their families.

CNN's Suhasini Haidar reports Muslims in the Western Indian state of Gujarat are being forced to leave their homes fearing attack from Hindus

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In this at least she is luckier than Zebunnisa Hussain who fled the same day after the body of her father was dumped at a mosque hacked into four pieces.

"He went to buy shopping and was attacked from the back. We immediately left the house and came here."

She says leaders of the mob were recognized as members of high-profile Hindu groups but, while she does not expect justice, she is hopeful that she can return home with her baby "once the situation is normal."

And there is 14-year-old newly orphaned Javed Hussain who cuts a shy withdrawn figure running errands for the camp organizers in an apparent bid to keep busy.

He watched his mother, father and 17-year-old sister being burned to death and while thrown on the blaze himself, miraculously escaped with injuries that hospitalized him for five days.

Everyone in the mosque compound where each family spreads a dusty rug to mark their small territory has a terrifying tale to tell of how they came to be here -- and little to look forward to in the future.

Collateral damage

Police estimates alone put the number of Muslim homes and businesses destroyed by mobs armed with knives, gas cylinders and Molotov cocktails at around 5,000.

At the camps people too scared to go home -- if they still have one -- or to work lie listlessly on the stone tiles under hastily erected canvas shades that do little to stop the heat, currently topping 40 degrees.

India riot damage
Police estimate that around 5,000 homes and businesses were destroyed in riots staged by Hindus  

The most seriously injured people are in a nearby hospital but five small beds in a makeshift medical area hold people twisting with pain while pills and prescriptions are dispensed to waiting queues.

A health worker who has visited most of the industrial city's camps says that as well as diarrhea and fever from such cramped quarters, a major problem for many children is lung conditions from the smoky cooking in the confined space.

Altogether over 50,000 Muslims in Ahmedabad are now believed to be in camps seeking safety in numbers as the violence continues to simmer with almost daily clashes on the streets. There are also a few much smaller Hindu camps.

Another 50,000 Muslims are housed in camps elsewhere in India's western most state where around 900 deaths have been officially recorded -- unofficial estimates double that -- since the Godhra attack which saw Hindu pilgrims burnt alive.

What will happen to camp dwellers now, monsoon season fast approaching, is unknown with chilling media reports of threats daubed in some villages detailing gruesome violence should they ever seek to return.

Amiran Bibi, who has lived through communal riots in 1965, 1985 and 1992 shrugs hopelessly when asked where she will live out her days.

"This time it is too much. I just fled."




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