REFUGEES FROM BURMA NEED U.S. PROTECTION

Fact Finding Trip to New Delhi by Zo T. Hmung

April 17-30, 2002

 

A. Executive Summary

 I spent April 17-30, 2002, in New Delhi to assess options for durable solutions for refugees from Burma who reside in the Indian capital.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in New Delhi, as of the end of March 2002, there are 952 people from the country of Burma recognized as refugees by the UNHCR. Out of 952 refugees, 90 percent of them belong to Chin ethnic groups. The rest are Burmese, Arakanese, Shan, and Kachin. They include torture survivors, women, children, elderly people, and people persecuted because of their ethnicity, religion, and prodemocracy activism.

During my trip, I met with Wei-Meng Lim-Kabaa, UNHCR Deputy Chief of Mission, Kathy A. Redman, Officer in Charge Immigration, Attache of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), and Mr. Christopher George, YMCA Refugee Program Coordinator. I also met with over 250 refugees in one large meeting, met six times with 10 key leaders from the refugee community, conducted five interviews at refugees' apartments, spent most of my time visiting their housing and neighborhoods, and gathered voluminous information regarding their current hardship and vulnerability and their compelling reasons for fleeing Burma.

These groups are distinguishable from other refugee groups in India. For years, they had been living in suburban areas of New Delhi without future hope for a better life. They are unable to obtain jobs. Because they are Christians, they cannot feel comfortable and are not welcomed in the local Hindu community. They are unable to speak the local language, which is Hindi. Their children are unable to attend school. Psychologically, they are traumatized. They cannot go back to Burma because Burma is still under the rule of a military regime. Most importantly, they can be deported back to Burma at any time even though they are recognized as refugees by the UNHCR.

Unfortunately, the UNHCR has referred only a dozen cases to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) authority in New Delhi. At the same time, the U.S. INS in New Delhi does not take a case unless UNHCR refers a case to them. The INS does not accept walk-in cases. Therefore, they are in need of special protection by the U.S. The U.S. Department of State should designate them as refugees and process their cases. This would be a durable solution for them. The Chin community in the U.S. would be very happy to welcome these refugees.

 

B. Assessment of Resettlement Factors

1. Physical insecurity

"I know I can be deported back to Burma"

Refugee Thang, in  New Delhi

 

India has not signed the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees or the 1967 protocol. India has no specific law regulating refugee issues in India. Therefore, refugees can be deported back to their country of origin at any time by the Indian government for security or criminal reasons.

Because India has no specific law for refugees, refugees are regarded as foreigners. Therefore, everyone is required to register at the Foreign Registration Office where a refugee may obtain a Residential Permit. Although they have refugee certificates from the UNHCR, they are not safe and some of them have been deported back to Burma.

Because India is one of the largest democratic countries in the world, the government has been trying to show support to the democratic movement in Burma. The Indian government awarded Aung San Suu Kyi the Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding in 1993. However, in 1994, Indian authorities arrested and deported thousands of refugees back to Burma. Again, in 1996, the Rajiv Gandhi Memorial Award was given to Aung San Suu Kyi. Nonetheless, in 2000, Indian authorities arrested and deported thousands of Chin refugees to Burma.

India has been motivated to improve relations with the Burmese military regime to protect her national interest. Most of the India freedom movements from the North East states base their activities in Burma. Therefore, India needs the Burmese military regime to wipe out the rebel activities. Moreover, India has been selling computer goods and other military equipment to Burma. In return, India does not welcome refugees from Burma. In addition, India tried to wipe out the activities such as the Chin National Front, which fights against the Burmese military regime for self-determination of the Chin people as well as the democracy in the union of Burma. This has resulted in military cooperation between the two countries of Burma and India.

The individuals recognized as refugees by the UNHCR in New Delhi were not safe. For example, during 1995 and 1996, 11 men from the Burmese army defected and sought refugee status with the UNHCR. Even though UNHCR granted refugee status to them, Indian officials deported them back to Burma. Their whereabouts are unknown. The following are their particulars:

 

 

Number

Name

Age

Rank

Service

UNHCR Interview Date

UNHCR  Number

Date of Arrival in India

1

Kyaw Moe

22

L. corporal

5 years 825676

July 31, 1996

n/a

June 16, 1996

2

Aung Win

24

Private            

1 1/2 years 963398

July 30, 1996 

n/a

June 16, 1996

3

San Oo

21

Private

1 1/2 years 996567

September 29, 1996           

n/a

June 16, 1996

4

Khin Maung Wai

19

Private 

11/2 years 963399

July 31, 1996

n/a

June 16, 1996

5

Kyaw Naing Lin

18

Private

1 1/2 years 977037

August 1, 1996

n/a

June 16, 1996

6

Kyaw Moe Khai

21

Private

8 years 770177

August 1, 1996

n/a

June 16, 1996

7

Win Zaw   

20

Private   

2 years 911747

   

BU-000237 LIG  269

October 1995

8

Kyaw Zan

18

Private

2 years 911747

 

BU-000236 LIG 540

October 1995

9

San Lin

22

Private

4 years 959624

 

BU-000235 LIG 269

October 1995

10

Kyaw Han

24          

Private

4 years 826279

 

BU-000239 LIG 269

October 1995

11

Khin Maung OO

24

Private

5 years 772571

 

BU-000238 LIG 269

October 1995

 

Source: All Burmese Refugee Committee, New Delhi

The above information indicates that refugees are not safe in India. They can be deported back to Burma by the Indian authorities.

 

2. Lack of basic necessity

(a) Food

"I have no choice but to collect vegetables out of the garbage" 

Refugee Rawl, in New Delhi

Through the office of the Young Men's Christian Association, the UNHCR in New Delhi provided Rs. 1400 per head of household. Up to three additional family members receive Rs. 700 each and more than four family members receive only Rs. 300 each. For a single refugee, Rs. 1400 does not cover living expenses such as food, clothes and other necessary things. Therefore, four or five refugees live together in the same apartment, about 10x8 square feet. They sleep, cook and eat together in this small room. It cost from Rs. 1500 to Rs. 2000 per room per month.

New Delhi holds five evening markets where refugees forage through garbage bins to collect vegetables. Refugees either buy discounted vegetables late in the evening or pick up the discarded produce after the market hours. These vegetables form the basis of lunch and dinner for the next day

 

(b) Shelter, electricity/water

"Within two years, I moved seven times".

Refugee Peng, in New Delhi

These 952 refugees reside at about 140 apartments. Six to seven people are living together in a small one bedroom without a kitchen or a sitting room

Several main problems related to housing impact these refugees. First, because of financial difficulties, refugees search for inexpensive living accommodations. Therefore, refugees live in Janakpuri district, Jeewan Park, Vikaspuri, and Nihal Vihar. In addition, because they live in low quality housing, water supply and electricity are unreliable.

Second, the dietary practices of the Chin lead to housing difficulties. The Chin people’s Christian beliefs allow them to eat meat such as beef, pork and chicken. In contrast, the local Hindu population are vegetarians. The Hindu landlords refuse to allow the preparation of meat in their apartments. If the Chin are found preparing meat, they are forced to evacuate. Therefore, in order to eat meat, the Chin must find an alternative location to prepare their food. However, none are available for them. As a result, a refugee has to move almost once every three months.

A third housing problem is restricted visiting rules. Because the refugees have no jobs they have nothing to do. Therefore they spend their time visiting each other. This is an essential part of the Chin culture. However, landlords in New Delhi do not permit visiting. Whenever a landlord finds a visitor, refugees are required to evacuate their apartments. This makes it difficult for refugees to get to know their neighbors.  

 

(c) Medical

"Whenever I went to health care center, I got only Paracetamol"

Refugee Ming, in New Delhi

The Voluntary Health Association of Delhi (VHAD) is an implementing partner for the UNHCR regarding health and medical assistance for refugees. It has two centers: VHAD D-63 Sakei, New Delhi 110017 and VHAD A-4, Shankar Gardee, Vikas Puri, New Delhi 110018. In order to meet their needs, UNHCR established two medical centers where refugees may go if they are ill. These two centers give only Paraceltamol, a headache remedy. Therefore, the refugee must go to the government hospital.

Even though government hospital bills are accepted by the UNHCR to reimburse medical costs, refugees faced difficulties in getting proper reimbursement. Moreover, no reimbursement of dental treatment is available. Therefore, refugees are unable to receive better treatment because they lack financial assistance. 

 

3. Inadequate ability for local integration and self-reliance

(a) Education

"I just want to send my child to school"

Refugee Sung, in New Delhi

The Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) is an NGO implementing partner for educational activities of refugees recognized by the UNHCR. It is providing financial assistance to 512 refugees. The YMCA has two centers: National YMCA, H 17/11 (First Floor), Malviya Nagar, New Delhi-110017 and National YMCA F-12 Vikas Puri, New Delhi 110019. The UNHCR provides educational financial assistance to refugees through these YMCA centers. 

Each student is allotted an annual stipend, which is disbursed twice a year in April and October. A child from Kindergarten (3-5 years) to 5th Grade (9-11 years) is granted Rs. 2500 per person. From 6th to 10th grade (10-16 years) Rs. 3100 per person per year is granted. These payments only cover uniforms. The remaining amount is the responsibility of parents, who are unable to afford this tuition.

Because of financial problems and the language barrier, these refugees cannot pursue higher education. Even children face education difficulties. Among the Chin, there are 150 children under the age of 18. Out of 150, 45 children could not go to school because of financial difficulties.

Financially the most viable solution would be to attend government schools, which have no fee. However, the student must pass a test in Hindi to gain admittance. Because the classes are taught exclusively in Hindi, this makes it nearly impossible for Chin students to succeed.

It is better for the refugees to go to an English medium school. However, the admission requirement is very competitive. The remaining public and private schools have several levels of fees such as requisition fees, admission fees, annual fees, uniforms, books, and transportation.

Below is an example of expenses at the Saviour Convent Sr. Secondary School:

Fee & Admission Charges for the Year 2002-2003:

 

Fees Type for Class VIII

Cost

Registration

Rs. 25

Examination & Medical

Rs. 350

Admission

Rs. 200

Annual Charges

Rs. 850

Administrative, Development & Pupil Fund, Land & Building Fund etc

Rs. 2500

Tuition

Rs. 2640

Transportation (300x11 months)

Rs. 3300

Books

Rs. 1000

Uniforms

Rs. 800

Total

Rs. 11,665

           

Source: All Burmese Refugee Students' Parent Committee (India) Dated April 28, 2002

This is one of the least expensive. The students have no recreational resources at their school. Refugee children cannot adjust to the classroom environment. They are unable to relate to their peers and it is difficult for them to understand instructions. Because their parents lack the necessary funds for tuition and transportation fees, children cannot complete the school year.

 

(b) Unemployment

"Living without job negatively affects my mind"

Refugee Aung, in New Delhi

It is extremely difficult for a refugee to find employment in New Delhi. Less than one percent obtains jobs. The remaining 99 percent of the refugee population depend upon the subsidized allowances provided by the UNHCR. Refugees registered with the UNHCR since 1993 have been unable to find employment. The Unemployment rate is high. Additionally, without knowledge of the local language, Hindi, it is difficult to find employment. Chin people have not been successful obtaining jobs in the government, local sectors and private business centers.

Formally, in order to find employment, one must have a work permit from the government. In order to get a work permit, one must have a job offer first from a company or government institution. This cyclical process makes obtaining a job nearly impossible for refugees.

The UNHCR has encouraged refugees to have vocational training. The YMCA provided computer and other vocational training, but the certificate given does not guarantee a job. Even utilizing job placement services provided by the YMCA, refugees were unable to obtain employment.

Since 2001, in cooperation with the International Catholic Migration Committee (ICMC) office in New Delhi, computer training and English courses have aimed at providing the means for self-employment. Out of 150 applicants, 80 were selected to attend classes. Because this is a basic computer course there is little likelihood the students will find employment. Although it is advantageous for refugees to take these classes instead of wasting time at home, it unlikely that even 5 out of 80 students will find employment after completing the courses.

The ICMC assistance is welcome but refugee leaders believe this training will not lead to self-support. Since the beginning of this project, no one has found employment.

 

(c) Discrimination against women

"I'm afraid to go out alone"

Refugee widow Thluai, in New Delhi

Leaders of the Chin Women's Organization in New Delhi said women are afraid to go to the market alone. A man must always accompany her because of the discrimination she receives. Local Indians are interested in them and sometimes inside the bus they face sexual harassment. There are several widows who are only able to survive because of other assistance.

 

C. Positive factors that would facilitate resettlement

Most people from Burma who have fled to New Delhi are officially recognized as refugees by the UNHCR. Even though the UNHCR does not normally transfer cases to the U.S. INS, Ms. Lim-Kabaa, the Deputy Chief of Mission for the UNHCR, has indicated that the UNHCR would be happy to facilitate the process if the U.S. Department of State designates them as PII category. To be considered as a PII category, a refugee does not need a referral from the UNHCR. The U.S. Department of State’s  Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration link explaining the Priority (P) classifications is http://www.state.gov/g/prm/rls/fs/2001/2131.htm As a matter of fact, Chin and other ethnic groups from Burma have actively and persistently worked for democratic change in the union of Burma.

Chin communities in the U.S. would assist Chin refugees moving to the U.S. There are eight Chin churches in the U.S. as well as communities in the states of Maryland, Michigan, Indiana, Texas, Florida, and Georgia who would provide assistance. I believe refugees would prefer to go to these states. Some Chin residing in the U.S. have submitted the Affidavit of Relations for refugees in New Delhi. Therefore, the assistance from the Chin community in the U.S. would be beneficial for resettlement.

Since 1995, the U.S. Committee for Refugees (USCR) has been advocating on behalf of these refugees. In every annual survey, the USCR mentioned Chin refugees in India http://www.refugees.org/world/countryindex/burma.htm  There have been several press releases by the USCR condemning the arrest and deportation of Chin refugees in India.

The Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) became involved in advocating on behalf of Chin refugees when they were deported to Burma by the Indian government in 2000. President Ralston Dabenffaugh wrote a letter to the Indian authorities condemning the deportations in 2000. The LIRS has been very supportive in my mission and would readily continue providing assistance in the future if the need arises.

 

Appendix 1: Interviews

The following 5 interviews were conducted in homes. Interviews will highlight human rights violations by the Burmese Army, the life situation of refugees in New Delhi and the unavailability of employment. Third country resettlement is imperative.

All interviews are conducted in Chin and translated into English.  Editing in English is made for clarity.

 

14 years experience of unemployment as refugee

1) Mr. X, Ethnicity-Chin, Religion-Christian

Arrival in India, October 1, 1988.

Ms. Y (Wife)

Ms. Y (Daughter)

Mr. X (Son)

 

Q. Why did you leave Burma?

When the democratic uprising occurred in Burma in 1988, I was a third year University student at Mandalay University in Mandalay, the second capital city of Burma. After participating in those activities, I came to my native Chin State to organize continued movements. In my area of Matupi Town of Chin State, we formed Matupi Students Union to carry out democratic uprising in Matupi town and its area where I was elected as the General Secretary. We continued protesting against the Burmese Army. Since the military coup in September 1988, I and 23 other leaders fled to Saiha of Mizoram State, India. I reached Saiha on October 1, 1988. At that time, the Indian government provided us with a refugee camp in Saiha in December 1988. They gave us everything that we needed to live. Other friends fled to Champhai area where the Indian government provided a refugee camp in Champhai. The Indian government and people were very supportive of our democratic activities and they were very sympathetic to us.

 

Q. Why did the Indian government close refugee camps in Champhai and Saiha?

In June 1995, the Indian government closed Champhai and Saiha refugee camps because India started supporting the Burmese military regime in 1993. Both countries began talks with border trade. India was afraid of China's influence on Burma. That is why I came to New Delhi in 1994 and sought refugee status.

I was granted refugee status on June 24, 1994.

 

Q. What do you do now?

Currently, I am the person in charge of protection at the All Burmese Refugees Committee (ABRC). ABRC is formed with refugees to take care of our need. I do not get paid for this work. This is voluntary. I have knowledge of both Hindi and English, but I could not get a job because I am not an Indian. I am a foreigner and the unemployment rate is very high in New Delhi. I have been here for 8 years, and I am one of the most capable persons among refugees. Still I am not able to find a job.

I have to do two things: one is to go to the Night Market to collect waste vegetables and also look for an apartment every month.

 

Q. Does the UNHCR or YMCA provide vocational training? How?

Yes. UNHCR always wanted us to be self-reliant. But it is not possible. Let me tell you why.

In March 1999, UNHCR and YMCA established a school for us. Five of us were teachers. We taught English and Hindi. Forty students were enrolled and we taught up to three grades. We thought we were successful. In the month of January 2000, local police officers in a police truck came to the school building and broke all the windows. Students told me about this and I personally saw the broken windows. Our teacher leader Val Thang asked police officers why they broke the windows. Police officers replied this was not our business. We were told to keep quiet. The school has been closed since that time.

Immediately, we informed the UNHCR and YMCA officials. The UNHCR said we should talk to the YMCA. When we talked to YMCA, they said we should talk to UNHCR. I have not worked since that time.

In 2001, there was a vocational training program such as T.V. repairing, refrigerator repairing, and other air conditioning repairing. I think no one participated in that program, because we knew that we would not be able to get jobs with those skills. Once we finish such training, the UNHCR is going to cut off our subsidized allowance. Another matter is about the transportation fee. It was about Rs. 300 per person. It was not worth taking vocational training.

 

Q. Is there any other vocational training now?

There is currently Don Bosco vocational training run by the UNHCR and the International Catholic Migration Committee. They are teaching English and computer classes. I learned that out of 150 applicants only 80 were selected to take the classes. I am glad that people are interested in it, but I can tell you, this vocational training will not lead to self-reliance or self-employment. You cannot get a job in New Delhi. The community does not accept us here.

 

Q. Do you think local integration is possible?

No, no. Because we are a different society, the Indian community looks down on us. They discriminate against us. They do not accept us. They always treat us as foreigners. We are Christians and they are Hindu. I have been here in India since 1988 and in New Delhi since 1994. I have been here for 8 years now. We need alternative solutions.

 

Q. Talk about education.

Education is one of my concerns. In New Delhi, every school has fees such as registration, admission, tuition, books and uniforms. UNHCR only provides for uniform fees. We cannot send our children to school. Among refugees, some of them have graduated from high school in Burma. Now, they cannot continue education here.

The apartment rent is increasing every year. I have to search for an apartment every year. Now, I moved to the 8th place. So, even though they attend school, they are not regular because we could not pay the fees. Water supply and electricity at our apartments are not good

 

Q. What do you think about a lasting solution for refugees?

As one of refugee leaders, I think lasting solution would be settlement to third countries. Because India and Burma relations have been better before, our physical security is not safe. We have no hope for our children’s education, or our self-reliance, and the health assistance is not good enough. We are traumatized.

 

 Widow with a child experience in New Delhi

 2) Ms. Y, Widow with a child. Ethnicity -Chin. Religion-Christian

Original Date of Issue of Refugee Certificate-- January 29, 1993

Mr. X (deceased husband)

Mr. X (son)

 

Q. Tell about your husband and your self

 My husband Mr. X was an active democracy activist since the 1988 democratic uprising in Burma. He finished his bachelor of law degree from the Rangoon University. After participating at the uprising, he fled to India. Then, he came to New Delhi to seek refuge at the UNHCR. On January 29, 1993, he was granted refugee status.

I was born at Tlauhmun village in Chin State. We were married on August 21, 1997 at Aizawl, Mizoram state of India. Then, I joined him in New Delhi on November 21, 1997.

 

Q. How did your husband die?

In 1998, my husband was elected to be president of the Chin Refugee Committee. He was busy helping other refugees with their problems. On November 12, 1998, he was very tired with helping others and felt very bad about refugee life in New Delhi.  He was very sad. About 11 pm, he cried and was unconscious. Since we did not have money, we could not take him to hospital emergency room. Then, he died on the spot.  At that time, I was about to deliver my child. I had a baby Joshua on December 10, 1998. It was very painful and sorrowful time in my life.

Since I have a baby, I have been taking care of him by myself. I got subsistence allowances of Rs. 1400 for me and Rs. 600 for my child from UNHCR. But, this money is not enough to rent an apartment. So, we are living with friends in this small room.

 

Q. Have you looked for job?

Before I had a child, I had been looking for a job such as tailoring, but I could not find it. Now, I have to take care of my child. I would like to send my child to an English Medium school, but I could not afford to do so. There are other widows like me.

 

Q. How many women and children?

There are many women. There are also 18 widows like me who have struggled their lives here. There are nearly 200 children. All of them could not go to school because of lack of money. We have Chin Women's Organization. Currently, I am the assistant secretary of CWO dealing with women problems. One of the problems we are facing is discrimination by local people. Local people discriminate against us by touching our bodies even while riding the bus. So, we educate women to be careful and how to live among the Hindu community. Another area is to educate Chin and international community about women's rights in Burma. In this way, we continue our struggle for democracy in Burma.

 

Q. Are there any marriages between the refugee community and the local community?

No. I have been in New Delhi since 1997. There have been no marriages at all. Before I came, there was no marriage either. I don't think there will be a marriage between the two. As I said before, we are refugees and Christians. They are Hindu and local people. We don't speak Hindi. We speak English a little bit. Local people do not speak English. I would be surprised if a refugee has a girlfriend or a boyfriend from the local people.

 

Q. How do you feel about your physical security?

I do not feel good. Because I'm afraid of the local people and I could be deported back to Burma by the Indian authority. In 2000, many Chin refugees were sent back to Burma by the Indian authority. It is a difficult life here because our landlords and our neighbors do not like visiting. Since we do not have work, we would like to visit each other. We would like to share our sufferings among our community. However, neighbors complained about us and we have to move from one place to another. Once a stone fell down in front of our room. Our neighbor accused us of throwing a stone. So, we were afraid and we moved to another apartment.  Then, whenever we would like to go shopping at the market, we must have a male to accompany us. So, life is not easy at all.  I want to resettle to a third country so that my child will be able to attend school and we will be safe. We have asked the U.S. Embassy to consider us to go to the U.S.

 

Q. Did the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service officer interview you for resettlement to the U.S.?

After my husband died, it has been extremely difficult to survive in New Delhi as a widow with a child. On June 15, 2000, the U.S. INS officer interviewed me for resettlement to the U.S. Still I have not received a reply from the INS. I called several times and wrote several letters to the INS. No response has been given to me.

On March 18, 2002, I wrote a letter to the INS officer in charge to consider us to be settled to the U.S. As of today, I do not receive any reply. So, I am in a hopeless situation. I am so concerned about raising my child; his education and his health. Other widows also face the same problems.

 

Prison Experience in Burma

3) Mr. X, Age 32, Ethnicity- Chin

Religion- Christian

Ms. Y (Wife)

Mr. X (Son)

 Ms. Y (Daughter)

Ms. Y (Daughter)

 

Q. Tell about your life in Chin State, Burma

I was born at Tlangpi Village, Thantlang Township, and Chin State. I was a schoolteacher for seven years at my village. Due to my support for democracy and my support for the Chin National Front, I was jailed in Kalay Jail, Sagaing Division in Burma. My mother died while I was in Jail. My brother and uncle remain in Kalay Jail in Burma.

 

Q. Why were you in jail?

On June 24, 1999, Burmese Army LIG 266 led by commander Captain Kyaw Soe from Lungler Army Camp came to our village, Tlangpi.  Captain Soe ordered that we should find a soldier, Aung Tu (age-14) who was left behind on the way because his leg was hurt. We could not find him. It was learned that the Chin National Army captured him. On July 3, 1999, the army came to our village and we were accused of supporting the Chin National Front. We were blindfolded and our legs were tied. They put fire on my legs and kicked me on my mouth. All villagers were put in the Church. Later, we were put in a football field standing the whole day as punishment. Villagers were forced to cut all trees near the village. We were not allowed to eat and drink. They said they are going to kill all the villagers. They fired their guns again and again to threaten us. On July 16, 1999, six village leaders and myself were taken on foot to Thantlang Town, the capital of Thantlang Township, which is 27 miles. After reaching Thantlang, we were put in a big truck and taken to Hakha jail, the capital of Chin State. 

 

Q. Tell about your life in Haka Jail

On July 17, I reached Haka. I was put at Haka Jail.  All of my belongings such as my clothes, my watch and my money were taken away by one of the officers. As soon as I entered the room, I was severely punched in my face and my body was kicked as punishment.

There are two rooms. One is for male and another for female. The male room is about 18’x18’ and a bathroom is attached. There were 40 people in that small room, so I was put near the bathroom. Food was not available. My relatives brought food for me, but the duty army officer took most of my meals and the rest was given to me. Almost every day, I was interrogated Military Intelligence about the Chin National Front. I always replied I did not know them. They were angry with me and punished me again. Later, I and six of our village leaders were taken to the LIG 266 headquarters at Rungtlang Mountain situated at the northern part of Haka. We were put in a small room 10'x10'. Our hands and feet were tied. They stabbed my ears again and again with a needle. There was not food and water, and no toilet was available. I just used a small bottle as my toilet. They kicked me all the time.

 

Q. How did the court proceed on your case?

After two months, we were taken to the Haka Township Court to appear in Court. Our relatives paid a lawyer Ks. 40,000 to defend our case in court. But the lawyer was not allowed to speak at all. We were accused as violators of the law Section 17 (1) a case which is supporting rebel activity; Section 17 (2) a case which is participating in rebellious activities; Section 17 (6) a case which is ignorance of informing about rebel.

Inside the courtroom, we were there from 6 am to 3: 30 pm. We were not allowed to eat anything. Our hands and feet were tied and we were blindfolded. When I asked whether I would be allowed to speak, I was kicked on my face and lost my tooth. In the courtroom, the judge did not make a decision. The Army officer made a decree. I was sentenced to 6 months imprisonment; our village head was given 12 years imprisonment; and our pastor and other leaders were sentenced to 3 years imprisonment. On September 13, 1999, we were sent to Kalaymyo Prison, one of the worst prisons in Burma.

 

Q. Tell about your experience in Kalaymyo Prison

At 9:30 pm on September 14, 1999, we reached Kalaymyo Prison. Before I entered the cells, my clothes, my boots, and my blankets were taken. Nothing was left for me except my underpants. At that time, there were about 435 prisoners; 56 were female, 5 of who were pregnant. One room is about 60'x20' and 80 prisoners were put together. There were 6 prisoners to be given capital punishment. 11 prisoners were foreigners who were accused of violations of immigration laws. They were sentenced to 2-3 years. There were 27 political prisoners transferred from Insein Prison. I saw some prisoners who were unable speak.

In prison, taking money and any kind of papers were strictly prohibited.  My family was allowed to visit with me only 5 minutes but they paid Ks. 500 per one meeting. So, they could not visit me many times. Whenever my family sent medicine and food, the duty officers first took and gave me the rest.

The worst part in prison was hard labor. Everyone must work in the paddy field and other road construction. Those who could bribe the prisons head were exempted from work.  During six months of my time there, 13 people died because of hard labor.  Personally, I witnessed the death of two prisoners. They did not get medicine.

Since I worked almost every day, I wanted to take bath every day. But, I was allowed to take bath only 3-4 times a week. Those who could afford to pay Rs. 500 took regular baths. Whenever we wanted to take bath, we lined up. We were allowed to use only 8 cups of water.

My living area was only 2 1/2 ' wide. It was too small. We were not allowed to use a mosquito net. Use of pillows was prohibited. Day and night I was tied. Among prisoners, our  leader was an ex-army officer. So, he tortured us.  After 8 pm, no one was allowed to speak and sit. Everyone must go to bed.  Food was very bad. We ate meat once a week.

At night, if I wanted to use the toilet, I must follow special rules. For example, when I wanted to use the toilet, I must say loudly, "My prison number is 1192/C- Joseph Ral Lian Kap. I want to use the toilet". If allowed, I must say when I get up to use the toilet;  "I am getting up to use the toilet". Until I reached the toilet room, I must say continuously; " I am going to the toilet room". When I was using the toilet, I must say; "I am using the toilet." When returning from the toilet, I must say,” I am returning from the toilet again". Then, I was allowed to go to bed.

Another area is the health issue. In prison, only one tablet of paracetamol which is a medicine for headache and one tablet of Burminton which is to relieve itching. If we could pay, we get a better treatment. They always wanted money. If someone’s health is critical, that prisoner was taken to outside hospital. That person died at hospital because the Army did not want a prisoner to die inside the prison.

 

Q. Did the International Committee of the Red Cross visit the prison?

Yes, they did. I think it was in the month of November 1999. Prison officials told us that the ICRC and Mandalay Prison Head would visit us to see our situation. Plastics covered the entire wall of our prison building so that the inside of the building was in good condition. Prison officials provided us good quality of rice, good food and prison dress, and other clothes. The dining tables were covered with white color coversheet. Water was supplied enough. The prison officials told the ICRC staff about this to show that our condition was good.   

The military intelligence officers entered our room. They took several pictures of our building and of us. All prisoners were prohibited to go out of our cells and we all were in our small places. The Political prisoners cell was closed down.

The next day, I think just after the ICRC officials left, the prison officials took off all of our clothes. Our life went back to the previous condition. In fact, they were lying to the ICRC.

  

Q. Did Prison officials prohibit having worship service for Christians?

Yes. The prison officials are the Burmese Army. They prohibited for Christians worship service. Since I am Christian, I wanted to pray, read the Bible and sing Christian songs. But, I was not allowed. However, Buddhists were allowed to practice their faith because the soldiers were Buddhists. In prison, everyone was forced to cite the Ten Buddhist Commandments without looking a paper. It was like poems. So, it was very difficult for Christians and those who did not speak Burmese very well. After serving time in prison, every prisoner must cite this ten of the Buddhist commandants before the Prison Head.  Even though I am a Christian, I must do it to be released from Prison. I hated to do it but I had no choice.  So, I was released on January 27, 2000.

 

Q.  Why did you seek refuge in New Delhi?

After I was released from prison, I came to my village, Tlangpi. I was happy to see my family. Everyone one was very happy. When I talked about my prison life at my village, the army warned me again. So, I fled to India and arrived in New Delhi on June 2, 2000. The UNHCR granted me refugee status on August 30, 2000. We were given financial assistance from the UNHCR but it is not enough for our survival. Since I do not speak Hindi, I could not find a job. So, we rent a very small room which is 12' x 10'. In this small room, we cook and sleep. I am concerned about my children’s education and health. I cannot buy good food. I always collect waste vegetable from Night Markets. I cannot buy any toys for them. I cannot take them to recreational area because transportation is very expensive. Our life is very difficult and I am traumatized.

 

Severe persecutions by the Burmese Army

4) Mr. X, age-60 yrs, Ethnicity-Chin, Religion-Christian

Arrived in New Delhi on October 29, 1999

Ms. Y (Wife)

Ms. Y (Daughter)

Mr. X (Son)

Ms. Y (Daughter)

Ms. Y (Daughter)

Ms. Y (Grand daughter)

Mr. X (son)

Ms. Y (Daughter)

Ms. Y (Daughter)

 

Q. What was your life in Burma?

It was terrible. Life was full of fear and oppression. Torture and forced labor continue. I was born at Bung Khua village, Chin State. I was Chairman of our village. I know very well about life in our village.

 

Q.  What did you do as Chairman of the village?

 Bung Khua village borders India. It is not far from Lungler Army camp.  Both the Burmese Army from Lungler Army camp and members of the Chin National Army (CNA) stayed at my house many times. The Burmese Army came to us to attack the CNA and the CNA came to us to talk about democracy and human rights violations by the Burmese Army. We did not get any financial or material support from the Burmese Army. In our village, we cut trees and burned the wood. Then, we grew rice and corn. In this way, we lived.

As head of the village, I supplied whatever the Burmese Army wanted. We were forced to construct Lungler Army Camp. Whenever, they came to our village, we must carry their ammunition, equipment and other things by villagers. Whenever they came to our village, they asked us to provide good food. We donated our domestic animals for them. Sometimes the commander of the Burmese Army demanded a Chin girl to sleep with. Rape occurred but we were afraid to speak. Stealing occurred, but we were afraid to speak. Whenever they came to our village on Sunday, we were prohibited from attending church services. Many times, they stayed inside the church building against our will. They regarded Christianity as western religion.

I organized all these activities. The most difficult thing was to inform about the activities of the CNA. We must inform about the CNA immediately to the Burmese Army. Failing to do so was a heavy punishment.

As head of the village, I must issue travel permit to our villagers. If one is going to travel to another village, that person must carry my letter, which says that person is from my village. In the same way, if someone from another village came to our village, the report must come to my attention.  Then, I must stamp on the paper saying that I know this person. This happens in Chin State. So, we are not allowed to travel freely. Everyone must carry a letter from village head.

 

Q. What made you flee to India?

At midnight of September 3, 1999, Mr. Van Peng of the CNA came to our house. A few hours later, 18 members of the Burmese Army from Lungler Camp surrounded our house and arrested him. My son and I were arrested. They accused us of supporting the rebel and we were taken to Lungler Army camp. At Lungler Army camp, both of my legs were tied and I was blindfolded. I was punched in my face and kicked in the back. The Army officer was very angry with me because I allowed a CNA member to stay at my house. The officer tied my hands behind my back. The officer then pressed the length of the barrel of a rifle along my shin and with a hand on each side of the barrel grated it up and down my shinbone. The officer stuck clothes in my mouth, so that I could not cry out.

In the early morning, it was raining heavily. The army officers were also very tired. They burnt off my eyebrows with their smoking cigars. They asked me again and again the whereabouts of the CNA camp. I replied I did not know about them. They beat me again and again. Fortunately, I was able to escape from camp and I fled to India.

 

Q. Do you or your children have a job and how do you survive?

I do not have a job. My children cannot get a job either. We used to collect waste vegetables from bazaars. We have this small room without proper electricity and water supply. We cook in this small room and we sleep in this same room.  In the summer time, it is too hot. We cannot afford air conditioning. We totally depend on UNHCR's assistance. We owe money to friends. 

 

Q. Could your children go to school?

No, not at all. In fact some of my children graduated from high school in Burma. Here in New Delhi, college tuition fee is too high for us. So, no one can continue education.

 

 Could not continue her education

5) Ms. Y- Age-22

Ethnicity- Chin, Religion-Christian

Arrival in New Delhi-October 4, 2000

 

Q. Why did you leave Burma?

On August 28, 1980, I was born at Hmawngtlang village in Thantlang Township, Chin State where the activities of the Chin National Front (CNF) are heavily based. My parents and I supported CNF by providing shelter at our home and giving them clothes. When the Burmese Army came to know about our support to CNF, my parents were arrested. I was fortunately able to escape from arrest and fled to India on September 22, 2000. On October 4, 2000, I arrived in New Delhi. Then, I submitted my application for refugee status with the UNHCR, but my case was not processed properly and we did an indefinite hunger strike.

 

Q. Tell about your indefinite hunger strike in front of the UNHCR?

On October 27, 2000, I submitted my application for refugee status to the UNHCR.  I was interviewed only on December 4, 2000. Again on December 8, 2000 I was re-interviewed. I was told that I would be informed about the result of my interview by the end of January 2001. I waited for five months. I called and asked for the result. No response on my request. The UNHCR did not process our cases properly. They ignored our cases along with 24 other people.

On May 8, 2001, we began an indefinite hunger strike in front of the UNHCR office in 14-Jorbagh, Lodi Road, New Delhi. Since we did not have refugee status for 6 months, there is no reason for us to stay in New Delhi. We stayed with friends who have financial assistance from UNHCR. We were lying before the UNHCR office silently. We were not allowed to use UNHCR's restrooms.

On the seventh day of the hunger strike, I was too weak and I felt stomach pain. On the eighth-day, I and two of my friends were taken to a hospital called All India Institute of Medical Science by the police. When I was there, I received three shots on my right arm and received three drips. I felt stronger.

I was discharged from the hospital the next day and joined the demonstration. Chief of Mission of UNHCR, Mr. Mahiga told us to stop the hunger strike and to go home. We told him that we have no home to return. We asked him to protect us. Then, the local police came to us and forced us to stop our demonstration on May 16, 2001. All refugees in New Delhi also joined hunger strike one day in supporting our matter.

On May 26, 2001, I was interviewed again and granted refugee status. But I was given subsistence allowance from the UNHCR only in July 2001.

 

Q. Are you employed? And what about your education?

I graduated from high school in Burma. But I could not continue my education because the cost of education is very high. I wanted to go to school very much. I am not employed. I do not speak Hindi. So, it is not possible to get a job. Even a male could not find employment. In order to survive, I stayed together with other friends. We collect wasted vegetables from night markets.

 

Q. Do you want to return to Burma?

I would like to return to Burma. But I cannot go to Burma now because the Burmese Army would kill me. I miss my parents and my relatives in Burma. I would like to go to school. I am always staying in a small room day and night. It is like serving time in jail.

 

Appendix 2: Letters

Letters include condemnation by the international community regarding arrest and deportation of Chin refugees in India.

(a) Human Rights Watch (see http://www.hrw.org )

(b) Amnesty International (http://www.amnesty.org)

(c) Letters of the U.S. Committee for Refugees to the Indian authorities.

(d) President of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (see www.chro.org) Organization website)

(e) A letter of Ms. Julia Taft, former Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration, U.S. Department of State to Mr. Zo T. Hmung, President Chin Freedom Coalition (see www.chro.org)

 

Appendix 3: Newspapers

Newspapers include arrest and deportation of Chin refugees in India

(a) The Times of India

(b) The Asian Age

(c) Vanlai Ni

 

Appendix 4: Historical Background Accounts

Ethnic Political Crisis in the Union of Burma: A presentation by Zo T. Hmung at Yale University at  http://www.ibiblio.org/obl/docs/ZoHmung-Yale2000.htm


Appendix 5: For more information on the Chin
, see Project Maje, "A Chinland Compendium" (1996), Ashes and Tears, Interviews with Refugees from Burma on Guam, (March 2001) http://www.projectmaje.org “All Quiet on the Western Front?" (Images Asia, 1997) http://www.ibiblio.org/obl/docs/Western_Front.htm  documents by the Chin Human Rights Organization at http://www.chro.org and http://www.chinland.org  Research on Indo-Burma Relations (2001) can be seen on http://www.mizzima.com  For information on the Chin refugees situation, please see the links in the Online Burma Library to the reports of the South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre (Search for SAHRDC)

 

Appendix 6: For an overview of the human rights situation in Burma, see the Human Rights section of the Online Burma Library http://www.burmalibrary.org Human Rights Yearbook 2000: Burma (Myanmar)”  by the Human Rights Documentation Unit of the NCGUB, in particular the chapters on “Rights of Ethnic Minorities”, and “Freedom of Religious Belief and Practice” http://www.ibiblio.org/obl/docs/yearbooks/Main.htm See also the 2001 Country Report on Human Rights Practices (Burma) of the US State Dept.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2001/eap/8260.htm the  reports of the UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar http://www.unhchr.ch/html/menu2/7/a/mmya.htm and numerous reports by human rights organizations such as Amnesty International – http://www.amnesty.org   and Human Rights Watch   http://www.hrw.org

 

Note: Zo T. Hmung:

 Zo T. Hmung is a political activist from Chin state in Burma. Mr. Hmung is the former president of the Chin Freedom Coalition, an organization of Chin community in the U.S. He has spoken at various international meetings and conferences including those organized by the UN, the U.S. Department of State, the Nordic Council of Minister, the U.S. INS, and Yale University.

 

For more information, Mr. Hmung can be contacted at the following:

Zo T. Hmung

314 Payson Road

Belmont, MA 02478

Tel. 617-489-7494

 zotumhmung@yahoo.com