Burma's Christian Refugees in India Demand Protection

NEW DELHI, India – Thousands of refugees who fled Christian persecution in Burma’s Chin state held a procession in New Delhi to mark the 60th World Refugee Day Monday, demanding legal protection in India and religious freedom back home.

“Our supreme aspiration” is to “live in our own native place of Chin State with dignity and free practice of our Christian faith, culture and language,” President of Chin Refugee Committee Steven Ral Kap Tluang told The Christian Post, as he walked underneath a white banner imprinted with a red colored cross leading over 3,000 Christian refugees.

“Due to the systematic, gross violations of human rights and suppression of our people by the Burmese military regime, which has a chauvinistic policy of ‘One Race, One People,’ thousands of Chins have fled to India and other parts of the world over the last six decades,” Tluang said even as the refugees shouted slogans, saying, “We want human rights; we want justice.”

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Even when they find asylum in India, a free country, the refugees find little relief. “While many of the over 11,500 Chin refugees in Delhi have identity cards issued by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, they have no travel documents or legal identity,” a Chin woman, Tialte, from the Euro-Burma Office in Delhi, told CP.

Additionally, there are over 70,000 Chin refugees in India’s north-eastern state of Mizoram, which borders the Chin State. None of them have any identity cards by the UNHCR, she added.

A May 2011 survey by the CRC showed that over 25 percent of the Christian refugees in Delhi were victims of assault, rape, sexual harassment, forcible eviction and other crimes. Police did little to take action against the accused as the refugees have no legal identity, the CRC said in a statement.

Although New Delhi has allowed the UNHRC to establish office in India, it has not signed the 1951 refugee convention which makes a country accountable for the protection of refugees.

The survey also showed that less than 20 percent of the refugees had jobs. “Many among the refugees who have gathered today have had no food in the morning as they have no means to earn their living,” the Chin woman said.

The refugees are also worried about the safety of their families in Chin State, she added. Some of the dozens of placards held by Chin men, women and children at the rally read, “Stop Religious Persecution in Chin Land (as the state is known by the Chin people),” and “I Miss My Motherland.”

The military regime of Burma, officially called Myanmar, has destroyed hundreds of churches in the Chin State. A report entitled, “Life under the Junta: Evidence of Crimes against Humanity in Burma’s Chin State,” by Physicians for Human Rights documented “extraordinary levels of state violence” against the Chin Christians. Of the 71 households from 13 of 90 villages and towns surveyed said government authorities had destroyed their local church buildings.

The Burmese military sees practice of any religion other than majority Buddhism as a key reason behind the demand for more autonomy. Therefore Christians, unless they willingly give the control of their religious activities to the federal government, are seen as enemies of the government.

Over 90 percent of the 500,000 people in Chin State are Christian. Along with the Chin Christians, Christians from other ethnic minority states, such as the Karen, Karenni and Kachin, also face religious persecution. Burma’s ethnic minorities, as opposed to the majority Burman people who are mostly Buddhist, have been demanding the freedom to express and practice their own traditions for decades.

However, the Burmese government has “ignored the call for national reconciliation” and has legitimized the domination of the military-controlled federal government by having elections in 2010 which were a sham, the CRC statement said.

The Burmese junta held the first “democratic” election in two decades last year but ensured that a party ruled by military generals got the majority in the parliament. The new constitution adopted before the election through an allegedly rigged referendum established Burma as a Union, leaving little hope of autonomy for the non-Burman minorities.

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