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Chin Refugees Coexist and Survive in India

Project Maje The Irrawaddy

Aizawl, the spectacular hill-city of Northeast India’s Mizoram State, is host to Chin/Zo refugees from Burma’s Chin State, Sagaing Division and northern Arakan Sate. They form as much as 10 percent of Mizoram’s current population.

Mizoram’s Mizo people are culturally related to the Chin/Zo people of western Burma and share the Christian religion. But relations with the refugees have often been tense, with rising crime rates blamed on newcomers. In recent years, outreach efforts have produced better understanding between the Mizos and the refugees.

Chin/Zo people have fled human rights violations and severe food insecurity in Burma. Some work as highly skilled handloom weavers in India’s Mizoram and Manipur states.

Northeast India’s states may be seen as role models of semi-autonomous economic and social development for western Burma, or as cautionary examples of constant inter-ethnic strife.

Thousands of Chin/Zo and other ethnic refugees from Burma subsist in Delhi’s slums, drawn there by the UNHCR registration office in India’s capital.

They have suffered from chronic unemployment, below-living wages, malnutrition, substandard housing and violent attacks by other slum dwellers.

Refugee children from Burma have been victims of bullying in Delhi’s public schools. A few community schools provide an alternative, but are short of funds.

Some long-term refugees in Delhi set up the Yamuna Clinic to provide medical care for families in the slums. With changes in Burma, some Delhi-based Burmese dissidents are returning, but most of the Chin/Zo refugees do not feel that their homeland is safe enough yet for them to return.