Tag Archives: refugees

Support Health Care for Burmese in Delhi

In 2010 the Support Burmese Refugees Network in Delhi produced a video with the help of a microgrant received from Burma Center Prague. It focuses on the health care needs of Burmese refugees in Delhi.

Food from the garbage

The video depicts and describes how the Burmese refugees are living in very poor and cramped conditions and many have had to resort to taking rotten food from the market rubbish bins in order to feed themselves. These conditions, combined with the lack of adequate health care services, have helped create a continuing cycle of deteriorating health for them. The main diseases they suffer from are hepatitis, jaundice, cholera, and HIV/AIDS. Despite this they receive very little support from the Indian government or the UNHCR.

“We need more help”

Thankfully for the Burmese there are two health clinics which provide them with access to free health care. One of these is Yamuna, founded by Dr. Tint Swe.

The Yamuna clinic provides essential support in particular to women and children, providing maternity and other services. But the clinic needs more funds in order to have sufficient medicines and equipment. They are only open three days a week despite the growing need of the Burmese community. Dr. Tint Swe’s clinic receives 60 to 90 patients every day they are open. He says: “We need more help from other sympathisers”.

Insufficient medicines

The clinics do not have sufficient medicines and medicine is often prohibitively expensive for the refugees. One woman describes the costs for her father who is suspected to be sick with dengue fever: “We need to spend Rs 3000 to 4000 every week just for buying medicines. I wish and request any organizations and people of goodwill to help us.“
(Rs 3000 to 4000 is in the range of 1,400 Czech crowns).

The free medical clinics are a ‘relief’ to Burmese patients

The health clinics are therefore hugely important for the Burmese refugees. As one patient describes she was “very relieved” to have access to the clinic. “This is the only option for us to meet the doctor and get treatment free of costs and I am very pleased for that.”

How you can help

You can help support the Yamuna clinic by buying a micro-grant share through this website.

You can either watch the video now or read the transcript of the video.

Video transcript:

Mr Plato Vanrung Mang, in-charge of CHRO-Delhi, working for Chin refugees pointed out the situation in relation to UNHCR’s health assistance to Burmese refugees in Delhi.

“Related to the Chin refugee health care program, we are also helping them with service help to the refugees, because the UNHCR have this implementing partner which looks after the health care of Chin refugees in Delhi, but their service is very limited not only that they don’t have any health clinics or centres for the Chin refugees. And in terms of these medications, UNHCR is not providing any assistance to Burmese refugees. And they don’t have any open clinics or health centres for refugees.

So, in these situations, refugees have to approach Government hospital, and when they approach Government hospital the people are very crowded and because of discrimination of Indian authorities, sometimes they did not get service and care from this Government hospital. So at that time they prefer to go to private clinics but as the refugee they don’t have money to go to private clinics so many Chin refugees could not have health service either to private clinics or Government hospital. But the only health clinics and access we can get are community open health programs. We have two systems, one is Yamuna Clinic opened by Doctor Tint Swe, so many of them. Another one is open by the WRWRB led by Burmese woman so, but their medications and their medicines are very limited also so they don’t have enough sufficient medicines.”

Video titles:

Due to poor economic conditions the majority of the Burmese refugees rent rooms which are situated in the remote part of Vikas Puri and Janak Puri of the western part of Delhi. Due to contaminated environments, lack of nutrition and cramped rooms without proper ventilation their health condition is getting deteriorated. Even though UNHCR through its implementing partner like Don Bosco works for self-reliance program, the majority of the population remain at home knitting and stitching to earn for their daily meal.

The Burmese refugees buy vegetables from the weekly market. Though some are able to buy good and fresh vegetables, some still collect waste and leftover vegetables at night after the Indian vendors closed the market. Some refugees even collect vegetable and eatables from the market dustbin which is also one of the main factors for the deterioration of health conditions.

There are two Burmese refugee clinics, i.e Yamuna and WRWAB. Yamuna clinic is run by Dr. Tint Swe, a Burmese MP in exile and the other clinic (WRWAB) is run by a women’s group. Both the clinics work to promote the health condition and give treatment free of cost to Burmese refugees residing in Delhi.

Interview with Dr. Tint Swe (founder of the Yamuna clinic)

“The Yamuna clinic is a free clinic for Burmese community in India. It was opened in August 2002. It is free for all Burmese refugees whether they are recognised by UNHCR or not. We open voluntarily to help the plight of the health status of our Burmese refugees. Because refugees are not provided proper health care by any organisation or any government.

UNHCR trying to help to some extent for the health of Burmese refugees but it is not enough at all. So we opened that one. We trained refugee women to assist my clinic. So I have already trained over 35 Burmese women who can help at the clinic. So far we have been treating the patients as out patients three days a week Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday every evening. On the clinic days we are receiving at least 60 to maybe 90 patients every day. Apart from treating the patients as out patients we are also providing maternity care. We take care of the pre-natal women, we take care of delivery of child and we take care of post-delivery cases. But even then we need more help from other sympathisers.

UNHCR also came to our clinic a few years back. They provided some equipment and examination bed but that’s all. They visit my clinic from time to time. They just come and they just go, it’s not enough. So I try to ask UNHCR to provide practical assistance to the clinic. Because my clinic deliver directly to my patients.

Interview with a Burmese woman on the clinic:

“As we cannot afford to get treatment from private clinics we are very relieved when we received medicines and treatment free of costs from this clinic. If we go to other health centres, we will not only spend money but also have to wait for long hours to get the treatment. This is the only option for us to meet the doctor and get treatment free of costs and I am very pleased for that.

Interview with a Burmese patient:

“When I first visited DDU hospital I was told to go to GB hospital. I have to spend at least Rs.500 whenever I visited there. I used to go there around 6 am and stand in the queue. Since the queue is very long I could meet the Doctor only around 1pm. We always missed lunch whenever we visited this hospital. The doctor at GB Pant hospital advised me to go for a blood test and other check ups and when I inquired they said it will cost thirteen thousand Rupees. Since I cannot afford that amount I approached the YMCA and Women’s Centre for assistance but I was informed that it is not possible to support me financially.

Therefore, I requested them if it is possible for me to change the hospital where I can get free treatment since I cannot afford there. Whenever I inquired to the YMCA and Women’s Centre, they told me that my case has been reported to the UNHCR and they are still waiting for the response.

I have not taken medicine for almost a month now. I am facing a difficult life and more worse is that I cannot go for a blood test. My health is unusual these days, though I’m fine in the morning, fever will strike in the evening and my weight has been terribly reduced. My weight is only 38 kgs now though in the past 3 months I used to be 45 kgs and I don’t know what to eat. I haven’t consulted any Doctor and I am still waiting for my blood tests.

Since I am a Hepatitis C patient. I am receiving Rs 2700 per month as Subsistence Allowance (SA) from UNHCR which people think I am fortunate to receive this assistance. But this amount is not enough even for house rent and food. I am informed that my SA will be cut after 3 months and I don’t have any idea what I will do next, should I request UNHCR to continue the SA or not since I have to spend at least Rs500 whenever I visited the hospital. I am very worried about my future.”

Video titles:

The main diseases caused among the Burmese refugees in New Delhi are hepatitis, jaundice, cholera and HIV/AIDS.

This is a funeral ceremony of Mr XXX, who died of AIDS. The funeral ceremony of all the Burmese refugees take place at Burma Community Resource Centre which works for social welfare and networking founded in 1998 by Burmese community in Delhi.

Interview with a family member whose father has been suffering from cancer:

“It is suspected to be dengue. The doctor advised me to do ultra-sound and blood-test by any means. The Doctor even asked to borrow money from someone. I could not borrow money and stayed like that for 3 months. What I came to know was that UNHCR will repay the money as it is very expensive. The SA we are receiving is not enough for buying medicines and moving here and there. Accordingly, doctor could not advise me what to do and the government of India also could not provide those medicines. We need to spend Rs 3000 to 4000 every week just for buying medicines. I wish and request any organizations and people of goodwill to help us.“

“Please use your liberty to promote ours.”

Aung San Suu Kyi

author: Jackie Fox

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5th Anniversary of Burma Center Prague

Yesterday, we marked the 5th anniversary of the organization Burma Center Prague since its official registration at the municipal court in Prague with a special event. For me the work for Burma has started in 2004 at Amnesty International with a campaign for a Burmese prisoner of conscience who, fortunately, was released even before we could launch it. In 2005 we collected birthday wishes for Aung San Suu Kyi on the One World film festival in Prague. It was during that time that Sabe and I realized that we could not make a real impact and fulfill our idea of sustainable and continuous work for Burma if we continued merely as individuals.

The Burma Center Prague has taken shape in early 2006. But it took still a long way until we came here where we are today. I remember the days when we used only private computers for the office work (I realize that I’m still doing so now) in our living room where we also stored all kinds of materials for campaigns, exhibitions etc. It was only in 2009 when we managed to get funding that enabled us to rent an office and afford a full-time salary that, presently, is shared by 3 employees. (Better projects to come – stay tuned!)

I remember the times when grant-seeking efforts and administration took enormous investments both in terms of finance and time so that more than once we considered returning to regular employment and making our work for Burma a mere free time activity. The policies and moods of International grant-making institutions and a sociocultural and business environment that is often little welcoming to charitable activities continuously nourished thoughts about moving to other places or forms of operation. Then the arrival of Burmese resettlement refugees to the Czech Republic surprised us with a fait accompli and our work gained an additional dimension.

We could never have come that far without the help of volunteers, donors and friends who believed in our mission and our work. So I conclude this short retrospection with my sincerest thanks to them!


The event in images

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Support Burmese Grassroots through Microgrants

Finally we are able to launch the 2011 round of our microgrant program. Please check out the projects at microgrants.burma-center.org.

For a grassroots group run by Burmese refugees in Delhi or Mizoram, a few hundred dollars can mean the difference between dreaming of a needed project or launching it. These self-support groups are mostly the only ones who provide essential services to the refugees like health care, legal advisory or vocational training. And our program has proven last year that once started these activities can often continue from own sources, and many generations of refugees will benefit from the skills that were acquired.

During the Burma Center Prague team’s trip to India in July, we selected the best 13 projects of those submitted by Burmese refugee organizations. The projects cover activities in Delhi or in northeastern India, and project ideas came from the Burmese after they successfully attended our project management training.

This year again we have projects covering a wide range of issues, from the provision of healthcare, computer and Internet access, human rights training, and news publishing to running a women’s shelter. The activities will run until the end of December at the latest, which means we have sufficient time to obtain the necessary additional resources.

Please head over to our site at microgrants.burma-center.org and read through the project descriptions to choose the project you like the most. The minimum contribution is just 500 CZK (approx. €20 / US$29), and the total amount will go directly to the project. Burma Center Prague covers all other costs for running the project. Of course, you are welcome to support more than one project! Payment can be made easily by card or bank transfer.

Thank you for your ongoing support!

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India 2.0

This July, Sabe and I headed back to India to do some work with local Burmese regufee organizations there. During our microgrant pilot program in 2010, during which we gave microgrants to these grassroots organizations to run small projects, we noticed that many of the organizations’ members had few project management skills. So we decided, as part of our capacity-building activity in our India project, to offer free PM training to members of these organizations. Attending the training was also made a precondition to receiving a grant in this year’s microgrant program. The response to our call for applications was great, more than 50 people signed up.
And so we found ourselves sitting in Dubai airport from midnight to 4am, on a layover on our journey from Prague to Delhi. I have to say, the airport was a more happening place in the dead of night than most of Prague at midday. People were shopping, eating, walking around…only a few brave souls tried to sleep in the floor behind/underneath the benches. I had been hoping to catch a few winks but could not resign myself to lying on the floor (unfortunately, Dubai airport has removed its quiet lounge, probably in an effort to get people to shop more). So needless to say we were a bit tired upon arrival in Delhi, but as the training was starting the next day, we had to hit the ground running.
We checked in at our ‘stay home’ with Auntie Avinash and Uncle Chadha, a very hospitable and generous couple with whom we had stayed with last year. Five minutes in the door and we were already eating – aloo prata for breakfast. They would continue to feed us during our entire stay, though this year I stuck with cereal for breakfast in order to keep something of my normal diet. And on the advice of Czech friends, I “opened” and “closed” each day with a shot of Slivovice, to ward off the Delhi belly. And it worked!
We ran around to the local shops in Vikas Puri (West Delhi) to get supplies we needed for the training, and took a look at the room we would be doing the training in. About 45 square metres, 2 doors and no windows, 6 ceiling fans, and an average temperature of about 36 degrees Celsius. Upstairs in the building was the new location of the Yamuna health clinic, one of the projects we supported last year, run by Dr. Tint Swe. We stopped in to say a quick hello, not wanting to interrupt his work and make the wait longer for all the patients.
Our preparations continued through Saturday and Sunday morning – photocopying, printing, and so on. Getting to the venue on Sunday afternoon ended up being a bit of a challenge: it poured with rain all morning and a small lake grew in front of the entrance to the building and our training room. We had to walk all the way around a vacant lot, jump down from a low wall (with our arms full of supplies) and then with the help of our rainboots walk through the lake to the door.
Our first session was on networking, discussing common problems faced by the refugee community, and brainstorming project ideas. I wasn’t sure how the participants would do with some of our “TEFL-tastic” interactive activities, but they all jumped right in, it was great. In one of the tasks, the participants were asked to make a list of their needs as refugees in India. Many made long lists, but one group summed it up as “A bright future”. Simple and apt.
Over the next three days, we did seminars on applying for a grant/making a project proposal, preparing a budget and activity timeline, running a project, project reporting, and sustaining your work after your grant money has been used up. It was physically demanding, doing training for 8 hours a day for 20-some people in that hot, hot room, but the participants were patient and hardworking. They gave us good feedback after each session, though “more breaks” was a common comment! We did always get positive feedback on the food, as we had lunches (fish curry, biryani) made for us by two of last year’s microgrant recipients who do catering as a means of earning a livelihood and supporting a free medical clinic.
On Wednesday we started the training again with a second group of 25 people, including 3 from Mizoram and Manipur states on the Indian-Burmese border. It was interesting to hear how their experience is different from that of refugees living in Delhi. In the second session we had an extra participant – a dog who liked to lie on the floor in our room. On another day of heavy rain, a small flood started in the corner of the room near the electrical equipment but some careful rechanneling of water in the vacant lot outside the side door helped us avoid a near-dangerous situation! We finished off the entire training with a joint session on Saturday on the topic of resettlement. Based on our experience with the Burmese refugees that have been resettled in the Czech Republic, we tried to give participants a realistic view of what awaits them when they are resettled. But more importantly, we sought to tell them that resettlement isn’t the only answer (only 1% of all refugees in India are resettled every year) and that they should already be working now in India towards doing what they want to do, rather than just waiting for resettlement. After a delicious dinner we showed the film Moving to Mars about two Burmese families that move from a refugee camp in Thailand to Sheffield, UK. The electricity cut out of course during the film but luckily only for 5 minutes.
One funny lesson I learned about doing training in India: when we arrived, our local partner Burma Centre Delhi asked us if we had already prepared the design for the banner. We told them we weren’t planning to have a banner. They were shocked and explained “It’s not a real training session if you don’t have a banner”. So we got one, you can see it in all its glory in the photo gallery below.

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A new home…

after spending six months living together in the asylum center in usti nad labem, the 40-odd refugees who arrived in summer last year will soon move to their new homes in several towns across the czech republic.

with one exception, each family will move to a town where they will be the only burmese family. while this will no doubt help with their integration into czech society, as they will have only czech neighbours, colleagues, and friends, it will be difficult to be without a burmese community and support network. the refugees have had 600 hours of czech lessons, but they are of course not yet fluent in the language and this will initially affect the depth of relations they can establish with their new neighbours or schoolmates.

that being said, the refugees are heading to their new communities with a great attitude. last sunday, they organized a going-away ‘party’ for themselves, featuring prayer, song, and friendship, and all crowded into the TV room at the asylum center. very kindly, we were invited to join them. before a delicious burmese lunch, a member of each family spoke for a few minutes to the group on the times they have shared together so far and the challenges ahead – and how saying ‘dobry den’ and having a positive attitude will go a long way in easing the transition. everyone is really excited about moving to their own flat (which they have already visited), and feels strong and ready to start their new life. while my own move to the czech republic was in no way similar to theirs, i was able to say a few words on how, with time, they will feel at home in this country.

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Twin-Event in Ústí

The ultimate benchmark for truly devoted Burma campaigners: getting up before dawn to catch the train to a day-long event in Northern Bohemia. You don’t even have time to sniff at your coffee before running out into the cold night.

Thanks to not less devoted partners on the Ústí side, at the Faculty of Science of the local University who integrated Burma into their Week of Geography, it all went well and our presentations on Burma, short films about the Cyclone Nargis and Burmese refugees in the Czech Republic and the classic “Burma VJ”, as well as the tasting of Burmese food, fair trade items and the exhibition of Harn Lay’s cartoons were well appreciated.

Once you spend a day for an event, it is really difficult to stop. So we came next day again to Ústí, but this time to the ZOO. Together with the bears Barma and Myanmar and many Burmese refugees – who brought traditional Chin and Kachin dishes – we enjoyed a great afternoon with food, a quizz, the opening of the exhibition, our campaign video, Burmese children reciting Czech rhymes, fair trade items produced by Burmese grassroots groups and, one of the highlights, the bears climbing around in their compound in search of fruits and cups of yogurt.

Many thanks to our partners, the refugees, the people from the Aněžka School in Ústí, the bears … and the visitors who not only filled the rooms but actively participated!

This probably has been our last bigger event for this year. We are now focusing on finalizing the “Indian” project and this year’s edition of our annual publication Focus on Burma. Stay tuned.

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a successful end to our trip

this latest post comes to you from prague as i wasn’t able to write before leaving delhi – too much food and drink during a meal on our last night in delhi, courtesy of our hosts, left me feeling ill for two days. but let me now share with you the events of our last few days in delhi.

on saturday our czech journalists held an open training session at the mizzima news agency, where they had been doing a mutual mentorship program during the week. the questions came slowly at first, but soon were in full swing: how do elections actually work? what should i say if i my friend asks me how to vote? what do we do if we can’t reach people inside burma during the elections?

we soon realized that many of the mizzima journalists, quite young, had themselves never voted in either democractic or undemocratic elections. so the old dictum ‘write about what you know’ becomes a bit difficult. we found photos of czech ballot boxes online to help explain the voting process, and explained such concepts as exit polls.

leaving the journalists to continue their training, christoph and i went off to meet two more of our microgrant recipients, one making a documentary film on the health status/care of burmese refugees in india, and another that had received funds to buy a projector and screen. the documentary will provide visible proof to such agencies at the UNHCR as to the poor health of refugees, and the projector and screen – such a small thing – will enable numerous groups to provide training sessions and workshops on a variety of topics, as well as simple entertainment to those who can’t afford to go to the cinema…

monday was our grand finale – a media workshop and press conference bringing together the burmese community in delhi, burmese independent media, and indian journalists. the czech ambassador, miloslav stasek, opened the event which was held at the national press club of india (which i must admit was quite run down!). the morning media workshop featured panel discussions on the upcoming elections and refugees, and i moderated a session where we came up with a set of recommendations for the indian government, EU and international donors, and Western democratic governments concerning Burma, the elections, and the status of refugees. this was followed by a press conference featuring several speakers including a freelance indian journalist and a member of the Indian opposition party. we were thrilled that numerous indian journalists turned up to the event, despite ”competition” from the commonwealth games.

i’d like to say just a last few words about new delhi and india…it was so nice to be in vikas puri, west delhi, where there were absolutely no western tourists. this also meant that no one approached us for money and there were no beggars to be seen. only a few of the local children wanted their photos taken on our digital cameras so they could see themselves after and we were happy to oblige. this was such a change compared to my trip to mumbai years ago. on a day trip to the taj mahal on sunday, two women (one with a baby) approached me and just handed me the baby to hold, then sat down and ‘chatted’ with me despite the fact that we shared no common language. but from sign language i undertsood that they wanted to know if i had children, why i didn’t have lots of gold jewellery, liked my sunglasses, and suggested that i have black toenail polish instead of pink. we sat together for a good half an hour, and i must confess that based on some of my experiences in other countries, i was wondering if they were going to eventually ask me for money or something. but no, we parted with just friendly smiles…

the trip was great – i met people whose lives we have touched through our microgrant program, as well as activists living in adverse conditions but who have not given up, and journalists working hard to bring burma’s situation to the public’s attention. i can only aspire to do half as much as all these people do.

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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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