NEW DELHI: Chin refugees from Myanmar who have been living in Delhi for years now are protesting appalling living conditions, lack of treatment for seriously ill and dearth of jobs and safety. They have been camping in front of United Nations High Commission for Refugees office in Vasant Vihar since Monday. The chief of mission has now agreed to see them on Friday.
Delhi has over 8,000 Burmese refugees, some of whom live on subsistence allowance. The others do odd jobs for a living. The Chin, a Christian-majority group many of whose members have left Myanmar owing to persecution, claim the military continues to be powerful there. With ethnic strife and human rights violations rampant, going back for them is not an option. Many have harrowing tales of escape. They typically walk for over a week to enter India through Mizoram.
"I lost my father before we decided to leave Myanmar in 2008. He went to a place called Falam. The soldiers were already chasing him, so I'm not sure what happened to him. When soldiers started coming to our house everyday, my mother, siblings and I decided to leave. But life has been difficult. Many of us don't have jobs. I somehow managed to join a call centre. United Nations is supposed to give each of us two dollars and 10 cents daily, but most don't get that," Mawimawi (22) said.
Many protesters have faced physical abuse, assault, molestation and even threat to life. Zar Zothangi (43), who lives with her daughter in Janakpuri, moved to Delhi in 2010 after the military suspected her of trying to convert someone to Christianity. But after escaping a life in which she was unable to practice her religion freely, she was allegedly molested in Delhi. "When I came here, my purse was stolen and the thieves molested me. Even at the ice cream packaging factory where I work, some male workers tried to attack me. I don't feel safe here and worry for my daughter," she said. Zo earns Rs 2,500 per month but the rent for her house is Rs 3,000. She has been dipping into her meagre savings.
The Chin Refugee Committee claimed that 99% of Burmese refugees earn much less than Delhi's statutory minimum wage of Rs 8,554. Their average monthly earning is Rs 4,500. There are more than 30 refugees suffering from Hepatitis B who need help immediately. Most have no other licence to work other than the blue UNHCR card, which is why their small businesses are disallowed by corporations.
Lian Khan Mang (40), who used to be a farmer in Myanmar, has hepatitis but doctors at G B Pant Hospital have suggested more tests. "I can't pay for them. My wife who works in a factory is the sole breadwinner. We pay Rs 3,000 for rent," Mang said. Herhluan (70), one of the seniormost refugees in Delhi, has been here for 11 years. "I worked for a shipping company in Yangon. My pension is Rs 30 in Indian currency. I had to sell my house in Yangon to come to India. I can't hear properly and have health problems," he said.
According to Human Rights Law Network, India is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention and so the protection of refugees is confined to ad hoc measures taken by the Centre, leaving them with few civil, political or legal rights.
Stories of abuse abound at UNHCR doorstep
NEW DELHI: The road in front of UNHCR office in Vasant Vihar almost always has people in anticipation of an assurance of shelter or safety. They are so desperate that they often spend nights in front of the office on pavements or wait all day seeking a chance to share their plight with officials at the commission.
On Wednesday, even when the Burmese refugees had already spent a night on the pavements demanding a meeting with the chief of mission, there were others seen sitting with placards and letters accounting their struggles in the city.
An Afghan woman (26) from Herat who requested TOI not to name her claimed that she waits near the UNHCR office almost every other day. She claimed her husband is with the Taliban. She escaped from Herat along with her brothers, mother and grandparents. They live in Bhogal now but she doesn't feel safe as her husband and members of the Taliban are allegedly tracking her.
"My letters to UNHCR are in Persian. I can't write in English. I was home-schooled in Herat till Class IX. In Herat, girls are not allowed to study. In Kabul, things are a little better for women. Delhi, too, gives women freedom to do what they want to live," the woman tearfully said. Her son (10) goes to school in Delhi and has picked up some Hindi. "My father used to beat my mother and that's why we escaped. He had a gun," he said.
The woman claimed the population of Afghans is high in Delhi which makes it unsafe for people like her. "What if someone informs my husband we are here? They need to move us somewhere safe," she said. The woman has done a beautician's course in Delhi. But though she follows English, she is unable to speak the language.
Another young person from Eritrea in Africa who has been in India since 2005 had a placard which read, "Why am I forgotten? Stop the discrimination. I am a refugee, too." He is seeking a long term visa to be able to work in Delhi. "Back home there is a lot of disturbance. There are human rights violations and extrajudicial killings. Most young people have no option but to become refugees. But in India, I can't work and racial discrimination is a major problem in Delhi," he said.
Burmese Refugees in India asking UNHCR for their rights
1. No implementing partners between UNHCR and Burmese Refugees.
2. Charity fund of UNHCR not to be wasted to hire Indian professionals NGOs who are rich but instead spend the fund for the needy refugees.
3. Use the salaries of implementing partner's as Subsistence Allowance for refugees and their other needs.
4. Providence for Burmese refugee's Children for formal education in private school.
5. Legal protection and safety for Burmese refugee's women and children.
6.Equal payment between Burmese interpreters and other nationalities refugee's interpreters.
7. Special treatment and providence for above 50 years of age.
8. Special treatment and providence for HIV, Hepatitis and Cancer patients.
9. 80 percent of resettlement must be according to seniority.
10. Advocacy for more resettlement.
11. Issuance of certificate for new asylum seekers.
12. Legal rights for Burmese refugees.