Refugee Month 2020: Chin Refugees

Featured Image: New York Times

In light of June being Refugee Awareness Month with World Refugee Day on June 20th, the US Campaign for Burma would like to highlight the history of refugees and internally displaced peoples in the various states of Burma- the first Chin state.

Burma has been governed by a military junta since the 1960s, where the Buddhist-majority Burmese government began carrying out serious abuse towards the Chin people, who are predominantly Christian. According to Human Rights Watch, the Burma Army’s atrocities against the Chin include arbitrary arrests and detention, killings, torture, forced labor, and restrictions on freedom of religion, where the Burma Army has commonly carried out forced assimilation. The religious and ethnic discrimination towards Chin Christians has limited their ability to maintain jobs and obtain better pay and promotions. These consistent and life-threatening abuses have caused thousands of Chin people to flee their state and country, becoming refugees in between the jurisdiction of host nations and Burma. 

In 2009, Mizoram state in India was noted to be the primary destination for Chin refugees, as Mizoram shares a 404-kilometer border with Chin state, and held a Chin population as high as 100,000. However, Chin people have endured severe discrimination in India – the country is not a signatory of the 1951 Refugee Convention or the 1967 Protocol Relating to the State of Refugees, meaning that India has no legislation relating to refugees and commonly regards asylum-seekers as “foreigners.” In 2017, following the Burma Army’s crackdown in nearby Arakan state, about 1,600 Chin fled to Mizoram state. As of 2019, about 4,000 Chin refugees are registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees office in New Delhi. 

Chin children, UNHCR

The numbers of Chin people in India, although existent, are considerably smaller than the original 100,000 in 2009. In more recent years, many Chin have fled to Malaysia where over 39,000 currently reside, as well as Thailand and Nepal which hold smaller numbers. Chin in Malaysia are at risk of police detention because the nation is not a signatory of the 1951 Refugee Convention, and many Chin are unable to send their children to school or pursue work.

 In February 2019, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees declared that the situation in Chin state was “stable and secure,” and that the Chin refugee community in Malaysia and abroad was no longer in need of the UNHCR’s recognition card that provided security and basic healthcare. Although the UNHCR has reversed its decision, the organization’s original perspective that the situation on the ground is safe for Chin people to return is representative of the effect mainstream media can have when reporting on the severe human rights issues occurring in Burma – it is rare to see coverage of what is actually happening in Burma and to the country’s ethnic groups. 

Chin refugees, Mizzima

Chin populations in Burma also suffer as internally displaced peoples – clashes perpetrated by the Burma Army have displaced Chin in Paletwa and Sami towns, where thousands currently reside in overcrowded and under-resourced camps. According to KALAY-Relief And Rehabilitation Committee for Chin IDPs, out of the 100,000 people in Paletwa Township, Chin state, over 60,000 live in conflict areas and more than 20,000 are lacking food. Fears of the spread of COVID-19 in IDP camps are also prominent, where the Chin state government stated in March 2020 that it plans to build new shelters for IDPs. 

Estimates from Chin organizations in December 2019 state that there are more than 200,000 Chin refugees and asylum seekers around the world. Issues pertaining to the Chin population are long-standing and exist because of deeply rooted ethnic and religious discrimination. All throughout this time, however, the perpetrator has not changed – persecution of Chin people at the hands of the Burma Army happens today as it did 10 years ago. It is for this reason that the US Campaign for Burma calls upon the United States government to pay closer attention to the plight of refugees and IDPs in Burma, as these are the people who are most affected and yet most forgotten in business and diplomatic meetings. We implore grassroots and civilians to continue educating themselves and to use their voices to raise awareness for the people who are still suffering at the hands of the Burma Army. 

For more information on conflict and IDPs in Chin State, click here to access UCSB’s Crowd Map and read articles from each state.

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