15th July 2010, Pravah Conference Room: Human rights activist Achan Mungleng gave us an insight into the pathos of the lives of refugees. An Indian Naga by birth, the activist has been working for the betterment of the living conditions of Burmese refugees in India and Thailand since 2003. The talk was organised to have a better understanding of the issue of Asylum seekers in our city with a view to use that in project UNNAMED. Having discussed the political crisis of Burma which was the cause of large-scale exile for millions of Burmese people, she went on to speak the desperate conditions the asylum-seekers are forced to live in. Not only is the procedure for application for the grant of asylum an extremely tedious one but it also proves to be a very expensive one as a refugee first has to come to New Delhi and bribe officers for verification of his legal documents. The refugees are paid minimal wages and they find it difficult to make ends meet, leave alone providing their children with a good education. They also have to face a lot of antagonism from the natives and being a vulnerable group become easy targets of violence. Another reason for this reluctance is their inability to speak and write in English or Hindi, which proves to be a bane in other ways too.
Possible courses of action to help mitigate the sufferings of Burmese refugees in India were also discussed. Achan feels that the support for refugees is generally sporadic. To make it more consistent she suggested that some workshops be held for the asylum seekers to make them aware of the provisions for refugees in Indian law so that they can benefit from the same and become more confident as a group. As many refugees die of curable diseases like Malaria, Dysentry and Typhoid, healthcare facilities need to be more accessible to them. Furthermore, to be self-reliant people, when they do get to go back to a democratic Burma, they need to be educated so that they can take responsibility for themselves. These, among others, are the ideas that we, the SMILErs, are going to work on as a part of ‘project UNNAMED’. A campus campaign for spreading awareness and consolidating support is also in store.