India urged to protect Christian Chins fleeing Burma

Human rights organisations, church groups and activists are pressing the Indian government to continue to provide protection and support to Christian Chins seeking refuge in Mizoram and other states, as a result of widespread political and religious persecution in Burma.

A fact-find report by an international delegation that visited India last year has called support for Chin people seeking refuge in Mizoram, by providing them protection, legal status and humanitarian and development assistance.

Chin state has the largest concentration of Christians in the whole of Burma. For several years, the community have been the target of persecution and oppression from the Burmese military regime which commits gross violations of human rights, including torture, rape and extra-judicial killings.

The 134-page report, documenting the plight of Chin people in Burma and the tens of thousands of refugees who have fled to India, called upon the UNHCR, NGOs, faith-based groups and the international community to partner with India to effectively address the Chins' challenges while also reducing the humanitarian burden on Mizoram state.

"Our report shows that Chins from Burma face serious protection and humanitarian problems in Mizoram, India," said Matthew Wilch, a US human rights lawyer and the lead author and editor of the report.

"They have no status or protection under the law and many suffer chronic economic insecurity, lacking adequate and stable shelter, food security, health, and education. Mizoram is burdened, too, by the large forced migration of Chin people."

The report is supported by Refugee Council USA, InterAction, Baptist World Alliance, Jesuit Refugee Service, Lutheran World Federation, World Evangelical Alliance, and World Relief, among others.

Chin people form one of the major ethnic groups in Burma. Since 1988, tens of thousands of them have fled from the state, seeking refuge in neighbouring Mizoram which is a predominantly Christian state.

"There has been a lot of attention on the possible political openings within Burma," observed Dan Kosten, Chair of Refugee Council, USA, a coalition of US based refugee resettlement agencies. "We urge that attention also be paid to the refugee protection crises for ethnic and religious minority groups like the Chins who have been forced to flee from Burma.

Presently, an estimated 100,000 people are seeking refuge in Mizoram. They constitute almost a 10% increase in the state's population.

The new report, which will be released next week, although considered it very positive that no large scale anti-Chin activities have occurred in Mizoram state since 2003, raised concern at the recent reports of smaller scale evictions.

"Despite the genuine sense of kinship expressed by many local people in Mizoram, Chins are
nonetheless fearful because they lack legal status and legal standing to protect themselves. They consequently are vulnerable to arrest, detention, and deportation as foreigners," the report states.

Besides protection, the report raises concern at the lack of livelihood, health and education. It encourages churches in Mizoram to play a critical role in providing community assistance through their hospitals, clinics, schools, and other community service outreach.

Chin state has the highest poverty rate of Burma's 14 states and divisions. Some 27% of the children have no access to primary schools; 32% of the population have no access to health care; and 73% live below the poverty line.