Apr 10, 2014

Chin: 8000 Refugees Seek Safe Haven In India

An interview with President of the Chin Refugee Committee (CRC) reveals difficulties facing  8000 Chin refugees in Delhi, pending official refugee status by India. In 1988 the Burmese army launched a massive suppression campaign against Myanmar’s Chin communities, which forced many to leave their homeland. 

Below is an interview with the President of the Chin Refugee Community of Burma in India by Ravi Nitesh published by CounterCurrents.org

Very few of us know much about the political situations in our neighboring countries and there effect onthe people there. Also, when it comes to the word ‘refugee' in India, we generally only think about Bangladeshis and Pakistani Hindus. When it comes to Burma (Myanmar), some of us may know about the Rohingyas refugees. But there are other communities as well who have been forced to find refuge elsewhere.  This is about another community from Burma called the Chin community that is struggling to live a life of dignity in India. 

Here is an account of my meeting with some of them residing in Delhi. I conversed with Mr. David who is working as a democratic representative of approximately 8000 refugees of the Chin community living here. He is the President of the Chin Refugee Committee (CRC), an organisation that addresses the problems faced by the Chin refugees. 

What were the reasons that forced you to leave Burma and seek asylum in India?

We were living in Chin State and belong to Chin community. We practice Christianity as a religion but on ethnic identity, we belong to the minority group of Burma.  In 1988, the Burmese army launched a massive suppression campaign against us. The Burmese army committed atrocities against us. We faced tortures, killings, rapes and other forms of violence. The Burmese army also tried to recruit people from our own community to suppress us. The level of violence and suffering was unbearable. Many people wanted to leave the region but few succeeded to flee from there. I myself came here in the year 2007. We did not have the right to profess our religion, we did not have basic rights that were granted to other communities.

What is your present status in India? I mean your refugee status.

Though we are living here, India has not granted refugee status to us. Somehow, through our struggle forsurvival, we have been recognized as refugees by UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) and through this, we have received some sort of security.

How many people are living here as refugees? Dothey all belong to the Chin Community?

Approximately 8000 people are refugees, ofwhich you can say that roughly95% are from the Chin Community and 5% from the Kachin Community. Some Monks are also here who are fighting for democracy.

What are main sources of livelihood of you people here?

Basically, we are working here in the informal/unorganized sectors such as the factories, restaurants, hotels, shops etc. We do not have any access to formal or organized jobs. Approximately 70% of us are illiterate.  

What are the conditions of education and health available to you?

Due to UNHCR assistance, we are able to access education and health facilities in Indian schools and hospitals where we are authorized to go. But despite the access, our children could not continue their schooling in Delhi schools because of the discrimination that they faced in schools. The discrimination which was based on our looks would also get converted into fights. 

How are you continuing their education then?

The Chin community is a community of approximately nine tribal groups. Every tribal group has developed one of its housesintoa church wherein we run a community school to provide basic education for that tribal community’s children. We presently teach them basic English, basic maths and chin language.  

What is the nature of support that UNHCR is extending to you?

UNHCR visits us from time to time and in case of any difficulty, comes to help us. It also runs baby day care centers and a basic computer course through its implementing partners.

What are the main problems here?

We face problems due to local people only. Our girls and women have been assaulted, molested while coming and going to work. Eve teasing is a common issue. Our looks create problems and they try to get benefit. Some men also reported of physical assault, snatching of wallet, phone etc.

How do you perceive the role of the police and local administration?

The police and local administration do not create any problem, instead they support us, probably due to UNHCR assistance to us. The police hasinfact sometimes arrested persons when we called them after molestation or assault cases.  

Is there any demand or expectation that you have with the Government of India?

We do not have any demand with the Government of India. We do not have any expectation from the Government of India because the Indian Government is building ties with the oppressive military government of Burma. We think that India, being a democracy that it claims to be, should coordinate and help in establishing democracy in Burma, rather than supporting the military government. We see that India is investing huge capital through various projects of development there and is mum over establishing democracy.

What are your entertainment resources? What are the main festivals?

We enjoy songs and movies as anybody else, but mostly of English language. Our main festivals are limited to Christmas and New Year. We also celebrate Chin National Day on 20th February every year.

How was this CRC formed? Is it registered anywhere?

CRC is formed to facilitate people of our community who have come as refugees here. We have nine tribal groups in the Chin community and one representative from each tribal group came to form CRC. These representatives of tribal groups as well as the President and other posts of CRC are being elected democratically by our community people through vote. For this voting system, we have a separate election commission as well.  CRC is not registered with the government or agencies, as according to law it cannot. But due to the democratic body and people's support, CRC is recognized by other agencies such as UNHCR. Any other agencies or groups contact CRC only for any kind of work/meeting etc with the people of our community. The period of President, Vice President in CRC is of two years only. Also, to work or visit the people, agencies or organizations need to get permission from CRC that in turn takes permission from the representative of that tribal community in CRC.

Who are the other tribal groups within the Chin community? Which group do you belong to?

The Chin community has nine tribal groups. They all have their own stories and history. These groups are Hakha community, Falam community, Zomi community, Cho community, Matu community, Mara community, Khuami community and others.

I belong to theHakha tribal group.  

What do you expect from Aung San Suu Ki?

Aung San Suu Ki is demanding democracy and so are we, so we are hopeful that if she comes to power as the Prime Minister, she will help us. But as of now, we cannot expect much from her, sinceshe herself is fighting and it is very difficult for her to become the prime minister as it may need some constitutional amendments as well.

Will you go back to your country in case the situation improves?

I can't say if our people will want to go back or not. Probably we will. We have suffered so much that we never think about it. We only pray for improvement in our situation.  

What is your plan for the future? Will you stay here in India?

As we are not getting refugee status by the Government of India, we are just living here somehow. We are continuously trying to get refuge in other countries which will give us refugee status. After all, we all want to live a life of dignity.

Had any other organization/agencies visited you?

Apart from UNHCR, no other organization visited us.

What help are you seeking for?

We feel that living here, away from our native land is difficult and painful for all of us. It is insecure as well. Insecurity in terms of physical, educational, sociological and even financial insecurity. In fact, we believe that all among us who are of good health must earn their bread and butter and they ensuretheir livelihood by their own work.However this is a  problem for the most vulnerable like old people or ill people who are unable to work and earn. We see that they need some sort of help.

Ravi Nitesh is a Petroleum Engineer, Founder- Mission Bhartiyam, Core Member- Save Sharmila Solidarity Campaign