Kornojoy Molshoi was an infant when his parents fled Mizoram in 1997 for a relief camp in neighbouring Tripura. Though they expected to return in a few weeks, Kornojoy is now 16 and has only experienced life in Naisingpara relief camp.
“It was shocking to discover a generation of children has grown up in these makeshift camps which are being denied basic sanitation, health or education facilities. Many children are even refused birth certificates or ration cards, making them an invisible population,” says Sipa Dixit, member, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR).
On October 24, the NCPCR sent a letter to the home ministry and four other central ministries on the dangerously deteriorating camp conditions. With no let up in the forced migrations caused by civil unrest in many states, it urgently recommends a policy for internally displaced populations living in relief camps.
Of the 31,846 Brus in seven relief camps in north Tripura, 8,426 are children like Kornojoy living here for 15-16 years.
They survived outbreaks of cholera, malaria and blood dysentery which have claimed 2,000 lives. Installed on a temporary basis, the camps still exist without proper sanitation, electricity, health centres or proper schools.
Kornojoy is about to complete Class 8 beyond which no schooling is offered in the camps. His father says, “Schools outside deny admission to camp children on various pretexts. He has no job option either.” The same bleak future faces thousands of other children in relief camps.
Visiting relief camps all over the country since 2008 to assist district administrations on the safety, education and health of children in the camps, including those in Muzaffarnagar, the NCPCR is now in talks with the Centre to issue guidelines for the camps.
“As internally displaced persons our condition is worse than that of refugees whose welfare is at least governed by UN guidelines,” laments Bruno Msha of the Mizoram Bru Displaced People’s Forum.
The NCPCR’s intervention galvanised the ministry of water resources to issue directions on November 1 for providing water and sanitation facilities on a ‘top-priority basis’ to children in the north Tripura camps.
It is time to recognise that relief camps are a reality in this age of civil unrest. The rights of displaced populations must be addressed through policy measures that cut through haphazard aid and biased considerations.
In a democracy, state governments cannot argue that ‘these are not our people’. For instance, camps still in existence after a few months must be incorporated into the district’s development agenda.
Systematic regulations are particularly important for children growing up in camps that are ‘temporarily permanent.
Rimjhim Jain is a Delhi-based independent writer
The views expressed by the author are personal