Refugees from Myanmar refuse to return to the country citing violence and discrimination

National League of Democracy chairperson Aung San Suu Kyi’s return to active politics in May last year after over two decades of incarceration had raised the hopes of the hundreds of Burmese refugees in India. They had also rejoiced during her six-day visit to the Capital last November. Yet the refugees, especially the Rohingya Muslims, are not willing to go back to their home country citing continuing violence against them and would instead prefer to obtain refugee status in India.

“Even after the change in government, not even one refugee has approached us to go back to Myanmar,” said Diana, a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson.

A 2009 survey by Refugee International showed that there are 50,000 to 100,000 displaced Burmese (mostly Chin and Rohingyas) in India. Most of them are stationed in the north eastern States, Jammu, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi.

In Delhi, most of the Chin Refugees, who are Christians, live in Vikaspuri while the Rohingyas are living in a camp in Kanchan Kunj on the outskirts of the city near Kalindi Kunj. According to UNHCR, the Rohingyas are the most oppressed minority group in Myanmar.

Some of these refugees came to India eight to 10 years back, while some came a month back. “They (the majority Buddhists) kidnap young boys, so our parents brought us here. They hit us, don’t allow people of our caste to marry and if one does, we have to pay a tax which cost us our property and lakhs of money,” said Ali Johar, 17, while struggling to communicate in Hindi. Ali fled from Myanmar four months back to escape from the torture Rohingyas face since they are not recognized as citizens of the country.

During Mr. Suu Kyi’s visit, she regretted that India-Myanmar relations had weakened over the past 20 years and asked for India’s support to restore democratic rule in Myanmar. She, however, chose not to speak much about the plight of the Rohingyas although the President of Myanmar, Thein sein, did make a comment before President Barack Obama’s visit to the country that the government would take “decisive action” to stop violence against the Rohingyas.

“We voted for her as she promised to make changes in the marriage laws but she was put under house arrest soon after. We were brutally tortured for voting for her. Now that she’s the leader, she will not do anything for us as it will affect her politically. We can’t go back, the situation is same for us there even now,” said 24-year-old Anvarsha, who is in constant touch with his relatives in Myanmar.

Fifty families of Rohingyas live in a small piece of land owned by Jagat Foundation. Each family has a room, kitchen and bathroom under one tin shed; they have also managed to build a makeshift mosque for themselves in the camp. They have two hand pumps installed at two corners of the camp for water supply. The UNHCR has granted them to live in Delhi till 2015 as ‘asylum seekers’. They are struggling to be granted a refugee status like the Chin refugees.

“The UNHCR has called us for interviews but it is a very slow process. We want the refugee status as it will give us a place to live, clothes, health benefits and will let our children get educated. Now even the Jagat Foundation people want us to leave their land and shift our camp elsewhere. We have no place to go,” said 18-year-old Abdul Rahman.

More In: Society | Metroplus