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Myanmar refugees do not want to quit India

Myanmar is embracing democracy after decades of military rule, but refugees from the country living in India say they have no immediate plans to return home.

delhi Updated: Jun 10, 2012 12:00 IST

Myanmar is embracing democracy after decades of military rule, but refugees from the country living in India say they have no immediate plans to return home.

Spokespersons for the mass of refugees here say despite the globally hailed changes in Myanmar, the situation was far from conducive for them to go back to their original homes and lives.

"At present there is no guarantee of safety (in Myanmar). There's no system for resettlement," said the campaign coordinator at the Burma Center Delhi (BCD) who gave his name only as Kim. BCD is one of the groups working among the Myanmar refugees, thousands of whom live in Vikaspuri in west Delhi.

"Civil unrest continues in Kachin state. A majority of our refugees don't want to go back," Kim told IANS.

Tint Swe, a doctor and a member of the so-called Burmese government-in-exile, had another point to make.

"Most refugees don't trust the government's assurances of better living conditions. Also, with Myanmar opening up, other countries are not as willing to take us as they were earlier," Tint told IANS.

He added that only political activists were thinking of going back. But even among them, not more than five had left India.

Mizzima, a news service started by exiled activists, is however shifting base from India to Myanmar.

"We have already started operations in Myanmar with two editors," explained Thin thin Aung, Mizzima's co-founder.

"Now that there is some degree of media freedom, only political and religious news have to pass through the censors. We always wanted to return home and we have taken our chance."

She quickly added: "The majority of our diaspora will not return until the situation has completely normalised and there are better economic opportunities."

But it is not that the refugees are happy in India -- in Delhi in particular.

Despite spending nearly two decades in the capital, the refugees cannot call it their home.
One reason is India has not signed the 1951 UN Refugee Convention that safeguards the rights of refugees.

Worse, racial discrimination is rampant, the Myanmar refugees complain.

"We have to face widespread racial profiling but our pleas for justice fall on deaf ears," Alana Golmei of BCD told IANS.

According to Golmei, as many as 15,000 refugees live in the Vikaspuri area, with the majority belonging to the Chin state which borders India. The rest are from smaller tribes including Kachins and Arakans.

Golmei regretted that most Myanmar refugees do menial jobs for a living or live on charity because getting work is so difficult.

According to Khai Bawi of the Chin Refugee Committee (CRC), woman refugees face a lot of harassment, at both workplace and home.

"At workplace the salaries are often sub-standard and are usually delayed. I know a 72-year-old man who works from 8 in morning till 11 at night and gets only 200 rupees," Bawi said.

"Security is a major issue. So many of our women get sexually assaulted but the police don't take any action. Once we even caught the culprit but they let him go," he said.

First Published: Jun 10, 2012 11:55 IST