Up to 100,000 Christian Chin who have fled to India in the past 20 years to escape persecution by Myanmar’s Buddhist military rulers are at risk of being forced back, Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday.
The New York-based rights said local authorities and community organisations in Mizoram frequently targeted Chin migrants, one of the former Burma’s many oppressed ethnic minorities.
“They live at the mercy of the local population,” HRW said in a report on the plight of the Chin, whose ancestral homes are in the mountainous reaches of northwest Myanmar.
“The Chin in Mizoram lack jobs, housing and affordable education,” HRW consultant Amy Alexander said, adding most were relegated to temporary, labour-intensive and low-paying jobs, earning around 100 rupees ($2) a day for 10 to 16-hour shifts.
The report comes at a time when attention has turned on the Rohingyas, another minority group in Myanmar, who have been fleeing abuse and harassment.
In the last two months, 550 Muslim Rohingyas are feared to have drowned after the Thai army forced 1,000 found in the Andaman Sea into wooden boats before towing out to international waters and cutting them adrift.
Despite relatively close ethnic ties between the Chin and Mizoram natives, tensions between the two populations regularly flared into anti-Chin pogroms, the HRW report said.
“Because they are stateless and marginalized and the poorest of the poor, they tend to be the scapegoat whenever there’s an incident at the border,” HRW researcher Sara Colm said.
The largest such campaign was in 2003, when the Young Mizo Association (YMA) forced 10,000 Chin back into Myanmar, HRW said.
In September 2008, the YMA issued an order for the Chin to leave Mizoram by the end of the month. The threat did not materialize, but it was enough for them to go into hiding, close their churches and wait till tensions were over, HRW said.
Such incidents showed India failing in its obligations to protect refugees or asylum seekers, Alexander said.
New Delhi has not signed the 1951 Refugee Convention but under international law, is bound by the principle of ‘nonrefoulement’, which protects migrants from being returned to any country where they could be persecuted.
In addition to what HRW described as “decades of systematic abuse” at the hands of the Myanmar army, the Chin’s woes have been compounded by a 2007 infestation of rats that destroyed huge swathes of crops and food stores.
A recent U.N. survey estimated that 40 percent of people in Chin State, Myanmar’s poorest, did not have enough food, increasing the number of people trying to leave the country.