Dr Graham Thom, Refugee Coordinator
With the ongoing persecution of minority groups throughout Myanmar, Burmese refugees are continuing to flee to neighbouring countries such as India, Thailand and Malaysia.
Last month (January 2010) I was able to visit the Indian state of Mizoram to talk to Burmese refugees from the Chin minority group. The visit was organised by the Centre for Refugee Research at the University of New South Wales as part of a cultural exchange, focusing on human rights workshops, including issues of gender persecution.
I was able to hear first hand from people who had been brutally tortured by the Burmese military. One man raised his shirt to reveal horrible scars where he had been beaten with hot iron bars. He described how they pushed a fish hook through his ear, dragging him along the ground. We also heard of the ongoing "forced portering" villages are expected to do for the military, making it impossible to tend their fields and leading to severe food shortages.
We also heard appalling accounts of the systematic rape by the Burmese military of Chin women and the family’s powerlessness to stop these attacks.
The Chin refugees, as a minority Christian group, have found some safety in the predominantly Christian Indian state of Mizoram, thanks to the ongoing generosity of the Indian government. However, while the capital of Mizorm, Aizawl, is a fascinating city, built precariously on the side of a cliff, recent reports have highlighted a number of the challenges the refugees face in India . For those in Aizawl the ongoing human rights violations in Myanmar and fears for the safety of family members still "inside" exacerbate the difficulties of trying to come to terms with living in a new environment.
While many of the stories I heard were harrowing the spirit of those we met was truly amazing. It is always an honour and a privilege to work with refugee communities around the world. I will certainly never forget my time in India and the hospitality shown to me by both the local Mizo people and the Chin refugees who generously gave up their valuable time to meet with me.