Burmese refugees in India seek legal protection | Asia Pacific

Burmese refugees in India seek legal protection

Burmese refugees in India seek legal protection

Updated 6 January 2012, 12:15 AEDT

Thousands of refugees who fled Christian persecution in Burma's Chin state are demanding legal protection in India and religious freedom back home.

Many of the Chins started coming to India after the failed students' uprising of 1988.

According to the UNHCR, there are more than 80,000 Burmese refugees living in India, a majority of Chin ethnicity.

And on the 23rd anniversary of Burma's nation-wide uprising for democracy that falls on Monday, they reiterated their demand for justice and respect.

Correspondent: Murali Krishnan

Tint Swe, MP of the National League for Democracy (Burma); Muan Kim, Secretary Burma Centre of Delhi; Theng Te, representative of Chin Refugee Committee; Thang Lian Pau, Secretary of Zomi Christian Community

SFX: Mass at church...sounds of organ, choir

KRISHNAN: It is Sunday Mass and hundreds of Burmese refugees are in attendance, many from the Chin community who have collected at the local church in Vikaspuri in west Delhi. This is the district where most of the refugees live after fleeing persecution in Burma.

Widespread human rights abuses have caused thousands of Chins from Burma's western hills to flee in search of refuge elsewhere.

Amongst the lot is Muan Kim, the secretary of the Burma Centre for Delhi. He explains why he fled.

KIM: I belong to the Christian community and my uncle is a pastor. And they have a missionary in the Chin state, southern part of Burma in my home town Plewa. In 1998, it was in January...along with him is are (sic) 18 people. They were arrested on 16th and on 19th they killed all, including my uncle.

KRISHNAN: The Chin Refugee Committee in New Delhi attributes their flight from their homeland to the more than a five-decade-long "systematic violation of human rights ranging from arbitrary arrest, killings, torture and political suppression".

The Burmese military sees practice of any religion other than majority Buddhism as a key cause behind the demand for more autonomy. Therefore Christians, unless they freely give the control of their religious activities to the federal government, are seen as enemies of the government.

Over 90 per cent of the 500,000 people in Chin State are Christian.

Tint Swe, MP of the National League for Democracy and an associate of Aung San Suu Kyi the general secretary of the party, says there is no hope for the Chins going back.

SWE: All of them are Christians. You know there are some religious persecution and religious restriction are there - so they are afraid for that. I would say the majority of Chin people inside Burma they lost hope for a future. So they want to do something outside Burma. So many, tens of thousands of Chins are leaving Burma mostly to India, Malaysia and Singapore...and a majority of them, they can't go back because of unsafety. So the only future for them and hope for them is a third country resettlement.

SFX: Atmos

KRISHNAN: Despite having fled Burma, many in India live in squalid conditions. Families can't send their children to schools or colleges. Though the Indian government generally tolerates the presence of Burmese refugees, it does not afford them any legal protection, leaving them vulnerable to harassment and discrimination.

Many among the refugees have no means to earn their living and barely manage a square meal a day.

Theng Te, is a representative of Chin Refugee Committee who is now writing a report to be presented to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

TE: The number of refugees are also increasing day by day. In 2006 based on Chin human rights organisation data, at that time they were about 1,500 refugees. Now according to UNHCR it is 16,000.

KRISHNAN: Besides Delhi, there are over 70,000 Chin refugees in India's north-eastern state of Mizoram, which borders the Chin State. None of them have identity cards. And the influx continues.

Thang Lian Pau, secretary of the Zomi Christian Community who fled the Chin state, is a worried man.

PAU (through translation): It is really sad that we have been caught between a rock and a hard place. And there is no help coming at all. In India, every day life is a struggle. And if we decide to go back we know for sure that we will be arrested and even killed. What do we do?

SFX: Church sounds

KRISHNAN: According to the UN refugee agency, Burma is the fifth world largest refugee generating country. The recent transition from military to civilian rule, refugees say, has failed to produce peace in the country. Many are hoping India will ratify the international conventions on refugees and provide them with legal protection.


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