India has been host to millions of refugees from her neighbouring countries including Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, Afghanistan, Myanmar and a couple of other countries since the past. The Government of India has recognized some of those people as refugees and helped them for their survival. But it has not recognized the Chins as refugees whose number in India varies from 40,000- 70,000.
Most of the Chin refugees live in the northeastern state of Mizoram which is close to the Chin Hills in south-west Myanmar, their homeland.
Roughly since 1990, Myanmar’s ruling military Junta extended its control over Chin State, largely populated by the Chin tribesmen. It was followed by large-scale human rights abuses of the civilian populations inhabiting the area. They were employed as forced labor; killed through extra -judicial processes; freedom of movement was curtailed; forced to give fines to the army without any convincing reason and their women were molested or raped. In consequence, many Chins started migrating to Northeast India, especially to Mizoram. In the meantime the Chin National Front (CNF) and Chin National Army (CNA) were formed in order to fight for the rights of the Chins.
The local Mizos initially welcomed the Chins as they viewed themselves as the ethnic brothers of the Chins. So the Chins in Mizoram were employed in various jobs, mostly as domestic servants and handloom weavers. But this sympathy did not last for long. The entire situation changed for the Chins in India as the GOI and Mizoram state government started becoming suspicious about the Chin refugees and their connection with CNF. It was also publicized that the Chins migrated to India in search of gainful employment, not to flee persecution by the military in Myanmar.
The first batch of refugees was sent back from India to Burma in September and October 1994. At least 1000 refugees were expelled from India within one month. The deportation process again started on June 15, 1995.
According to South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre (SAHRDC) report, many of those forcefully deported Chin refugees were put under military controlled trial in Myanmar after their return to the country.
SAHRDC also reported that the armies in India and Myanmar are engaged in joint cooperation action against insurgent groups operational in the border areas. And GOI believes that the Chins are involved with the CNF members who are helping some northeastern insurgent groups. Though, according to SAHRDC, there is no evidence to prove this hypothesis right.
Those who were not deported also faced huge problems to keep themselves alive. They are not provided with the same level of assistance given to other refugees seeking asylum in India. A small number of them who could come to Delhi have been able to secure recognition from UNHCR. Majority of them left without any support as UNHCR is not permitted to work in the northeastern states including Mizoram. After initial support, UNHCR has limited its help for the Chin refugees living in Delhi too. From 2003, UNHCR began phasing out its financial support for the Chin refugees in Delhi. Most children of the refugees are out of school due to financial burden. Several Chin women in India have faced sexual harassment. But they fear to file an FIR as they are not recognized by the government.
On 17th July 2003, an individual alleged to be a Myanmar national raped a 9-year-old girl in Mizoram. Followed, some local non-governmental organizations, Young Mizo Association and Mizo Women Organization have ordered for evacuation of all Burmese refugees living in Aizawl. As a result, on 3rd August 2003, again nearly 107 Chins were packed into buses going towards Indo-Burmese border.
So vulnerable those Chin refugees in India- they have lost everything- lost home, lost nation, lost identity, lost security and lost self-esteem.
1. Subir Bhaumik, the Returnees and the Refugees: Migration from Burma, published in The refugees and the State, edited by, Ranabir Samaddar
2. Subhash Chakma, his letter to Mr. Justice A.S Anand, Chairman, National Human Rights Commission
3. Forced Back: Burmese Chin Refugees In India In Danger, published in Refugees International
4. India: Burmese Chin Refugees Experience Sexual Harassment, Refugees International
5. The Situation of Burmese Refugees in Asia: Special Focus on India, published by SAHRDC.
The writer is a correspondent of Youth Ki Awaaz.