by Jenny Yang, Director of Advocacy and Policy at World Relief
For years, I had heard that thousands of refugees from Chin State in Burma were fleeing into Mizoram State, India to escape persecution at the hands of the Burmese military regime. We heard these stories from the Chin people who were resettled to the United States through World Relief who pled with us that their family and friends left behind in Mizoram desperately needed our assistance and protection. This population has been out of sight and out of mind of the international community because access to the Northeast area of India has been restricted for decades by the Indian central government. The Indian government lifted these restrictions in December 2011, which allowed me to participate in an assessment trip to see first-hand the challenges that these refugees face in this remote area of India.
Mizoram State is a beautiful, rugged, mountainous area of India where houses hover on stilts over 40 feet ravines and children play alongside windy, unpaved roads. What’s striking to me about Mizoram is not only the physical beauty of the state but the vibrancy of the Mizo people’s Christian faith. Mizoram is the most Christian state in all of India where over 95% of the residents are Christian. In fact, the church is the strongest institution in the state, providing much needed social services through hospitals, orphanages, and schools.
While the beauty and vibrancy of Mizoram shone, we also met with Chin refugees who are living in the shadows of this beautiful society. The horrific abuses they escaped in Burma are haunting and real. One woman for example was a teacher in Burma and one of her 14-year old students was raped by Burmese soldiers. When she reported this abuse to the authorities, they came to her house looking for her and she fled to India to seek safety.
She runs a small tea shop in Mizoram and tries to take care of her parents and brother who was tortured in Burma and escaped to India a few years before her arrival. We also met an 18 year old youth who was forced to porter for the Burmese military over 20 times in his young life, often for weeks at a time, carrying military equipment and supplies with no pay away from his family.
While these refugees have found some safety in India, the fear that the refugees live with in India is palpable. Without any form of proper protection in the form of documentation, many fear being deported back to Burma where they could be persecuted again. For many Chin refugees, they hope for the day when they can return to a safe, democratic, free Chin state in Burma. In the meantime, the Chin people in Mizoram yearn to be able to integrate into their host country of India.
It is my hope that through the local church, the international community can come alongside the church in Mizoram to welcome the Chins to Mizoram through protection and humanitarian assistance efforts, and that the U.S. government continue to raise with the Indian government the need to provide protection to this group of vulnerable refugees.
The full 134-page report with our findings, recommendations, and photographs and a shorter executive summary can be found at www.chinseekingrefuge.com