ABC Radion Australia: India urged to take Burmese refugees

India urged to take Burmese refugees

Australia Broadcasting Corporation

Radion Australia: February 2, 2009 12:19:39

A report released last week by the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch provides a rare insight into on-going human rights abuses by Burma’s military authorities against Burma’s ethnic Chin who live in the western region near the border with India.

The human rights group is pressing India to grant the United Nations High Commission for Refugees – UNHCR – access to some 100,000 Chin living in India’s Mizoram State, after fleeing persecution and poverty in Burma.

Presenter: Ron Corben
Speakers: Amy Alexander reseacher Human Rights Watch; Sara Colm, senior researcher Human Rights Watch; Salai Bawi Lian Mang, Chin Human Rights Organization director

CORBEN: The Human Rights Watch report into the plight of Burma’s ethnic Chin people followed a three year investigation into abuses committed by the Burmese Government against the Chin – a largely Christian minority. The report, entitled “We are like forgotten people”, documented widespread abuses carried out by the Burmese Army and government officials. Amy Alexander is a researcher and co-author to the report that covered 140 interviews with Chin refugees in Malaysia, Thailand and India.

ALEXANDER: Human Rights Watch has documented widespread killings, arbitrary arrests and detention, torture and mistreatment, forced labor, reprisals against the opposition, restrictions on movement, freedom of expression and religious freedom, as well as extortion and confiscation of personal property.

CORBEN: The report spoke of the Chin facing regular arrests and imprisonment to stifle dissent as well as the military undertaking religious persecution. Some 90 per cent of the Chin population is Christian. Many are forced to work as porters for the Army. Political dissidents reported beatings and torture by electric shock.

The ongoing rights abuse over several years has led to as many as 100,000 Chin fleeing into India’s Mizoram state.
Sara Colm is a senior researcher with Human Rights Watch which is pressing India to grant UNHCR access to the Chin to provide assistance.

COLM: We have people fleeing really repressive human-rights situations in Burma to India and there is no access to them by the UNHCR … We are calling today for pressure to be brought to bear on the Indian Government to allow U.N. 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.

CORBEN: Later I asked Ms Colm how India would respond to the call from Human Rights Watch.

COLM: I think the fact that Chin have been fleeing Burma through Mizoram state of India for more several decades now and for the most part there has not been any refugee camps allowed to be established there, UNHCR has not had a presence there indicates it could be difficult to get the Indian Government to agree. I mean India has shown itself to be a very hospitable nation for people fleeing – for refugees and asylum seekers fleeing other countries in the region. Even though India is not a signatory to the 1951 refugee convention it takes many, many refugees and many of them do end up being recognised officially by UNHCR and then others the Indian government takes under its wing.

CORBEN: But the Chin people’s plight has been aggravated in recent years by food shortages and famine conditions. In 2005 United Nations surveys found 70 per cent of the Chin in Burma lived below the poverty line, and 40 per cent faced severe food shortages.
Chin Human Rights Organization director, Salai Bawi Lian Mang, who welcomed the Human Rights Watch report, says the food shortages have added to the suffering of the Chin people.

LIAN MANG: Chin state, even in a normal situation is one of the poorest states in Burma, even by the Burma standard and on top of that every 50 year the bamboo flower and the rat infestation and the rat go into the field and destroy all farm products. In Chin state it began in early 2007. The Chin Human Rights Organization report released a report in July 2008 – according to our research and report over 200 villages have no, nothing to eat and about 100,000 Chin are at the brink of starvation and this Chin state is facing famine and the government of Burma, the State Peace and Development Council is doing nothing,so this is a very serious situation.

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