Chin refugees in Delhi struggle to access aid

Apr 9, 2009 (DVB), Refugees from northwest Burma who seek asylum in India are suffering unbearable living conditions and long waiting periods before registration, according to a report published yesterday.

A report by the Chin Human Rights Organisation found that an estimated 98 per cent of Burmese refugees in Delhi are from Chin state. Of the 4200 Chin living there, less than half are registered.

A Chin asylum seeker receives no aid from United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees until they are recognized refugees, said Field Assistant Plato Van Rung Mang from CHRO India.

"They are not receiving any aid from Indian civil society," he added. "They just try to work."

A Chin refugee typically works 10 to 12 hours per day, for less than Rs 70 (US$1.35).

Chin refugees in India wait on average four to six months to fill out an asylum application form after first registering with UNHCR.

After that, they wait another 12 to 18 months for the RSD (Refugee Status Determination) interview.

The total average time from the first approach to UNHCR to the time when the RSD interview is conducted is 10 to 18 months longer that UNHCR's own guidelines suggest.

"[The UNHCR] have to wait because of the lack of staff and large numbers of refugees," said Plato Van Rung Mang.

"They cannot work quicker, that is what they said."

During the long wait, Chins face poor living conditions. Many live in the large slums of Delhi without water source or electricity.

A single toilet can be shared between over 30 people, and diseases are common. Many have died of easily preventable conditions such as diarrhea.

Chin refugees also struggle in obtaining a residency permit which would allow them to both leave the country and access some government-run services.

"[The residency permit] is an essential thing for every refugee," said Plato Van Rung Mang.

"In previous years we could get it without paying any money; now the office started asking money for issuing this permit," he added.

Most Chin refugees live in Mizoram state on the India-Burma border, and many do not know that the UNHCR in Delhi exists.

The majority cannot afford to travel there, and have no hope in gaining legal refugee status, said Plato.

Reporting by Rosalie Smith

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