Chin Refugee Committee Delhi

Advocacy and help for Chin refugees in Delhi

‘We don’t have the Dalai Lama’

Posted by crcnewdelhi on September 15, 2011

Aug 14, 2011, [ Pooja Kashyap ] Source- The Times of India

The Tibetans have the Dalai Lama, we have no one of that stature to get us noticed,” says the man who just calls himself Peter. “Many of us are uneducated and have a language problem. So people ignore us.”

Obviously, Peter is not a Tibetan, although people here often mistake him for one. They also call him ‘Nepali’ or ‘Manipuri’ , though he’s neither. Peter is Burmese – among the 10,000 Christian refugees who fled persecution and poverty in their own country and found refuge in Delhi. Most are from Chin, a Christian-majority state of Myanmar near Mizoram.

It’s a refuge like no other. Dirty, slushy bylanes in Delhi’s western sprawl – Vikaspuri, Asalatpur, Janakpuri and Uttam Nagar…. Each dingy building is a maze of boxes – eight by 12 feet – masquerading as rooms. The paint is peeling off the walls; wires hang from the roofs. Outside the hovels, the children – scrawny and malnourished – wait while their mothers cook inside. “The rooms are too small for families to be inside while the cooking is on,” says Steven Ral Kap Tluang, president of the Chin Refugee Committee. He says most rooms are shared by six to eight people. Fifteen rooms share a common loo. “We left our homes, hoping to make a fresh start here. But life has become a nightmare,” says Steven.

It is estimated that around 86,000 Chin Christians have come to India since 1988. Most of them crossed over the porous border into Mizoram, travelling to Shillong and Delhi.

Runbik, a journalist who fled Buddhist dominated Mynamar over three decades ago, says it has become increasingly difficult for the country’s Christian minority to preserve its identity. Plato, a human rights activist, says that Christians “were forcibly asked to build pagodas, while our churches were destroyed” . He fled Myanmar a decade ago after a run-in with the military. “Our women were assaulted and our men were forced to serve as porters for soldiers. With 50 military camps across Chin state, ration and money was forcibly extracted from the locals. In the last two decades, Chin has seen no development and is the poorest region in the country,” he says. A UNDP survey found that almost three-fourth of the state’s population is below the poverty line.

But is life as a refugee any better? Miserably poor and condemned to a ghetto-like existence , the Burmese have little access to good education or decent jobs. “Our children face discrimination in government schools because of their physical appearance, language and culture. So we have stopped sending them there,” says Runbik. Many work in restaurants and factories, as security guards and house maids. “Sometimes, employers do not even pay us fully,” says Tshery, another refugee . The women have a rougher time, she says.

“They are teased and manhandled when they go out at night to collect leftover vegetables from the shifting bazaars.” She remembers her own experience when she arrived in Delhi . “My landlord came to my room asking for rent. All of a sudden, this 45-something man started groping me. When I raised an alarm, he went away but later doubled the room rent.” Police apathy makes matters worse. The gangrape of a 20-year-old deaf and dumb Burmese girl by nine locals in Uttam Nagar less than a year ago still haunts the refugees. “Why has no action been taken in her case?” asks Steven.

Although most of them have United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) certificates, they do not enjoy any legal rights as India is not a signatory to the UN convention on refugees. The subsistence allowance they used to receive from UNHCR was discontinued from this year. To make matters worse, “the Foreigners’ Regional Registration Office, which grants residence permits, extracts anything between Rs 3,000 to 15,000 from us,” alleges Plato.

Despite all this, their numbers seem to have swelled in the past three years. Around 60% of the Chin Burmese diaspora is under 35 years; many are going to the US, Canada, Australia and Europe. Is going back an option? For oldtimers such as Runbik, Myanmar is still Burma – the home they hope to return to some day. But they know reality is different. “The so-called democratically elected government of Burma is a sham. Even now, it’s the generals who control the reins,” says Runbik.

‘Their cornered life is appalling’

IIT-Delhi student Abhishek Jain is part of a team that runs a project to help Burmese refugees in Delhi. He tells Sunday Times how every little help counts

How are these refugees as a community?

They are close knit – rich in culture and tradition. It’s astounding they have existed here in large numbers for decades. Yet, their presence has largely gone unnoticed. They are very sceptical about trusting Indians; this stems from fear and exploitation .

What are the core issues that trouble them?

Their isolation and pathos just strikes you. They live in inhospitable conditions, with no support base, no work permit, no legal rights….Their cornered existence is appalling. Even a little support can make a difference like it did the Tibetans. We need to stop discriminating the Burmese. Give them a means of livelihood.

Any improvement after your intervention?

Under the banner of ‘Project Aarambh’, that began last November, Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE-IIT Delhi) is working with institutions such as UNHCR to set up placement cells to address unemplyment . In the last four months, 15 people have got permanent employment.

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