"We would return if we felt safe" – Burmese Refugees in Delhi

This is the third of three posts by PHR's Burma Project Director, Bill Davis, on his recent trip to visit Burmese refugees in Delhi, India.

Over the course of a four-day visit to Delhi, I met with about three dozen refugees from Kachin, Chin, and Arakan States in Burma. We met in the bare cement offices of the many civil society organizations that the refugees have formed—Burma Centre Delhi, Women’s Rights and Welfare Association of Burma, Kachin Refugee Committee, Chin Refugee Committee, Chin Human Rights Organization.

Some of the refugees I spoke with fled Burma after the military’s violent crackdown on student protests in 1988. A few had arrived within the last year, fleeing fighting in Kachin State, and others said they had come to India because they wanted to live freely and without harassment from the military government. Some did not want to talk about why they left Burma.

All of them talked about returning, though.

“Everybody wants to go back to their home country—if they are safe,” a refugee told me. But when I talked with them two weeks ago, none of the refugees felt safe enough to return.

“We want to go home but there is still military rule for the Chin,” one refugee said, “Democracy in Burma is not for the Chin people, not for us.”

Another said, “We fear we will be arrested. We always fear that could happen.”

 A few Kachin had returned to Burma, but they joined the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), which has been fighting the Burmese army since June of last year. Living in peace is not an option.

“I grew up portering [doing forced labor] for the Burmese Army,” a Kachin said, “There’s no possibility of protesting the government—you either have to leave or fight. I didn’t want to join a rebel group so I came here.”

The Burmese government has made some changes in Burma, increased some freedoms and held elections. But it needs to do a lot more to convince these refugees that t is safe for them to move home.

The US must maintain pressure on the Burmese government to continue its reforms and to ensure that the reforms reach all areas of the country.

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