Myanmar: India urged to protect Christian Chin minority
By: Dibin Samuel
Friday, 30 January 2009, 15:25 (IST)
Thousands of Chin Christians who fled to India from Burma in the past 20 years to escape persecution are at risk of being forced back, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Wednesday.
One of the ethnic minority groups from Myanmar, Chins, mainly Tibeto-Burmans, are constantly persecuted by Myanmar's military regime, forcing them to seek asylum in India, bordering Nagaland, Mizoram, Manipur and Assam.
"They live at the mercy of the local population," HRW said in a report on the plight of the Chin.
"The Chin in Mizoram lack jobs, housing and affordable education," HRW consultant Amy Alexander said, adding that majority of them are given low-paying jobs, earning around $2 a day for 10- to 16-hour shifts.
The Chin, 90 percent of who are Christians, account for about one percent of Myanmar's 57 million people.
Human Rights Watch Senior Researcher Sara Colm said about 4,000 Chin have trekked 1,600 kilometers to New Delhi to seek refugee status. The state is located along Burma's western border with India.
"We have people fleeing really repressive human rights situations in Burma to India and there is no access to them by the UNHCR," she said. "We are calling today for pressure to be brought to bear on the Indian government to allow United Nations officials access to the border regions of Burma on a permanent basis and not force asylum seekers to have to make the long trek down to New Delhi."
Meanwhile Indian officials in Mizoram refused the claims of "refugees being driven back".
"It is completely false. There are no Chin refugees in Mizoram from Myanmar," J.C. Ramthanga, secretary to the state's Chief Minister, told Reuters. "No one has been sent back."
The largest such campaign was in 2003, when the Young Mizo Association (YMA) forced 10,000 Chin back into Myanmar, HRW said.
"Because they are stateless and marginalised and the poorest of the poor, they tend to be the scapegoat whenever there's an incident at the border," HRW researcher Sara Colm said.
The report called for the Association of South East Asian Nations, European Union, and the United States to increase pressure on Burma to improve humanitarian assistance to the Chin.
According to the New York-based organisation, as many as 100,000 people had fled the Chin homeland into neighboring India, and have urged the Indian government and the Mizoram state to provide shelter and protection from the abusive Burmese militants.