Introduction to the Session on Burmese Refugees, Media Workshop

On the Media Workshop, held on September 27th in the Press Club of India, New Delhi, I opened the session about Burmese refugees in India with some general words about the situation.

(Note: The spoken version was slightly different.)


The number of Burmese refugees in Delhi is approaching the mark of 10,000. A small amount compared to Delhi’s population, one might think. So what is special about these people?

We are talking about international migration from a very traditional rural society to a completely new setting of an urban environment, which is characterized by a high degree of vulnerability and the newly emerging need to form strong alliances inside the community. While poverty and legal insecurity is nothing new to the refugees, it is now a particular attribute of them as foreigners: Refugees are being discriminated for being refugees.

These refugees, therefore, don’t just add up to the poor population. They encounter very specific difficulties, like higher room rent or harassment.

In India we encounter this special setting where the government refuses to grant an own refugee status with legal protection while, on the other hand, allowing refugees to stay and supporting the UNHCR together with Western embassies to run their resettlement program – of course with certain limitations.

The UNHCR defines 3 “durable solutions” to the situation of refugees – and I like to emphasize their proper order, in my opinion, in which solution should by tried:

1. voluntary repatriation to the country of origin; i.e. removing the cause of migration
2. if this fails: integration into the country where they seek asylum
3. if this too fails: resettlement to a third country

In the case of Burmese in India, it is evident that we cannot at this moment talk about a “durable solution”: Return is impossible; conditions in India do not facilitate lives with adequate material security and safety; and, resettlement is delayed by years, only a very small percentage of persons is resettled and those having been resettled have to face new, often insurmountable, challenges.

Migration is an international phenomena. It is therefore also a matter of international responsibility. We are not able to talk about Burmese waiting here for years for their resettlement to Europe, to America or to Australia, without talking about India and without talking about Burma.

followed by the speakers:

Mr. Ro Mawi, Chin Refugee Committee

Mr. Sangtea, Khonumtung News

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