Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Introduction for the I Edition, 2012

Ishita Dey and Sahana Basavapatna

How does one assess the achievements of the last 60 years of the functioning of refugee protection regime? UNHCR celebrated 60 years of its functioning in December 2011, a year that was marked by a number of developments, including the financial crisis engulfing Europe and the Australia-Malaysia swap arrangement that virtually made a joke out of the international protection regime. From the perspective of a refugee or a stateless individual, the last few years and the years to come therefore have to be seen in context. As Luise Druke explains in a contribution made to the New Issues in Refugee Research, the challenges that have been identified in the past remain. These include the “mixed flows”, deteriorating quality of asylum world wide, disillusionment about the aspects of the 1951 Convention, serious gaps and strains in the protection system generally (p. 10).

The tasks therefore are cut out. Europe is still reeling under one of the worst economic crisis, West Asia plunged into political crisis that was waiting to happen and Asia and Africa have also not seen “stable democracies” given the last few years of political violence they have had to face. At the risk of repetition, the world, if at all, has not become any safe for refugees and if 80 per cent of refugees is said to be in the Asia and Africa without the burden being shared with the more industrialized nations, there is little to rejoice.

Thus, for us at Refugee Watch Online, the task remains the same. The task of documenting stories from the ground that would, it is believed, add to the knowledge of how refugees are cared for, how they use or escape the legal systems and how informal networks step in to “protect”. Refugees would continue to work the system in ensuring that they are recognized, and once they are recognized they are either able to return to their countries when the political situation allows or travel to more secure countries where they are assured of a future for themselves and their children.

Closer home, not much has changed in South Asia. The debate about who is a genuine refugee remains and perhaps this would be so as long as the nation building project finds relevance. What kind of protection refugees should be entitled to equally remains. All that can be hoped is that migration is understood and accepted not just as a “security” issue but as a more complex phenomen that is tied to the region's political history.

We have four contributions in this issue of Refugee Watch Online. In the section on Perspectives, Rohit Jain, the young photojounalist, shares with us yet another photo essay, focusing on the Somali refugees living in Delhi. Interestingly, the Somalis, want to return home, despite knowing fully well that they will not survive the political violence. The essay is a peep into the world of the Somalis as they try each day to survive against discrimination, racism and poverty. We thought it apt to include a link to the story on Somali refugees recently published in the Guardian in the section on News titled After the famine: Somalia's refugees ponder their future by Clar Ni Chonghaile dated January 30, 2012 who describes the life in Camps in Somalia after famine was declared last year. One needs to question why Somalis in India want to go back home when the situation is nowhere close to providing them a sense of security, that many would argue India provides, even at a minimum. Considering how little the lives of African refugees are studied in India, this calls for a closer investigation. The third contribution is an interview with R. Laldawnglians, Vice President and Bruno M, General Secretary of Mizoram Bru Displaced People’s Forum by one of the editorial board members, Ishita Dey conducted in December 2011 during the Ninth Winter Course on Forced Migration. The Bru “refugees” who have lived in South Mizoram have for long been caught between Tripura and Mizoram where the former does not want them to return and the latter wants them to leave the state. Lastly in the section on Reports we wish to highlight a recent report of the Internal Displacement Monitoring Committee titled “This is our land”: Ethnic violence and Internal displacement in north-east India” published in November 2011. It focuses on internal displacement in three contexts, in the states of Assam and Meghalaya in December 2010 and January 2011, in Western Assam during the 1990s and 2000s and from Mizoram to Tripura state in 1997 and 2009. While calling for a law that would address internal displacement that has now become commonplace in the context of the north east, the report observes, “The responses by government authorities, including state and central government agencies, to the different displacement situations caused by generalised violence in north-east India have been ad hoc, inconsistent and often inadequate. Generally, state-level responses have not been based on comprehensive assessments of the needs of either recent or longer-term IDPs, but on political factors including local demographics, the variable interests of the central government, and different levels of media attention. In all cases their decisions were dominated by short-term considerations rather than an emphasis on long-term solutions.”

End the War – Photo Essay on the Somali Refugees

Rohit Jain

If I regain my country, I regain everything’, says a refugee. The years of fighting between rival warlords for gaining power forced millions of Somali to take shelter in other countries, mainly in neighboring countries of Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya and Yemen. However, a few took refuge in India in the hope of safe life and a better future. Absence of rights and assistance and denial of access to durable solutions is a source of insecurity for refugees. Somali refugees find themselves with almost nothing here. Having been cut off from family and kin, with uncertainty and no hope, income or financial support, life seems to be utterly unbalanced. Refugees note, UNHCR is ‘our only hope and is supposed to help us, but it is is discouraging’. Most of the refugees find themselves resorting to voluntary repatriation as a last option, knowing fully well that conditions in Somalia are dangerous. A refugee says ‘God forbid, you do not face this problem; you should not be without country and rights’.

Gerad*,30, from Mogadishu, began crying while thinking about life in India as a refugee. He says “I have a dream to go home and reunite with my mother. I cannot keep running and running anymore with uncertainty of my life. I am 30 years old, and I have achieved nothing. I do not want durable solution for myself, but for my country’.*Identity of the refugee has not been revealed on request; he fears that if his identity is known, UNHCR may take any action against him.

Xasan*, at a tea stall is discussing his concerns; “We are facing two worst things: If we go back to Somalia, we get tortured or killed, and, if we remain here as a refugee, we have no rights, no shelter, no money and no future’.*Identity of the refugee has not been revealed on request.

Qadar*, 41, says “I had no idea about India. I knew only about Bollywood. However, when I came here, I only struggled. Since June 2010, I am homeless. I fled from Somalia just to escape from civil war, and smugglers or agents provided me the way to India. Now, when there is no hope for resettlement or good future, and, when you feel hungry, it is better to die from bullet. Therefore, I want to get back to Somalia”. * Name changed on request.

A refugee showing a copy of application to ICRC to be reunited with his children, who have been lost in civil war in Somalia.

Fowsiyo*, 61, has multiple illnesses. She says, “My last request to UNHCR is to repatriate me. Let me die in my homeland, irrespective of how critical the conditinos are back there. Here I am living as a hostage”.

A refugee is writing a request letter to UNHCR outside the latter's office, New Delhi

Saed*, 26, is cooking dinner outside UNHCR, New Delhi. Saed has also been a homeless for last year like other fellow refugees.

Saed and his compatriot are having meal outside UNHCR.

Saed and other homeless refugees sleeping in open, outside UNHCR.

Fartuun*, 58, says “Our black face has become our enemy. We can not tolerate racism anymore. I will be the happiest one dying like a brave one than a slave”.

Xeyder*, 25, says “It’s been 5 years since I have been in India; I am perpetually suffering and yet I have no refugee status. I worked in a BPO, but after a month, I was fired without salary. I was told this is because I was not able to submit my identity documents. I don’t give a shit, whether I get killed or live in a worse condition in Somalia. I want to get back to my country”.

A refugee showing his qualification degrees, which are now useless to him.

Samale*, 30, is writing an application to UNHCR to seek subsistence allowance. Samale was thrown out of his room three days back, as he could not pay the rent. Now, he is staying at a friend's place. I was informed later that UNHCR rejected his application.

A refugee has drawn a picture, it depicts his dissatisfaction with UNHCR. It depicts refugees being under fire while under protection of UNHCR. ‘A person in protection hands’ is an emblem of UNHCR.

A recently resettled refugee has cherished reaction while chatting with me.

“We Want to Go Back to Mizoram”

Ishita Dey

According to a recent report published by IDMC1, around 30,000 Bru people were displaced from Mizoram and forced to flee to Tripura in 1990s. In 2009, there was a renewed violence which forced a smaller number of people to flee to Tripura. In 1990s various organisations from the Bru community ( Bru National Union and The Bru Democractic Convention Party) demanded for a Bru Autonomous District Council to be set up in Western Mizoram where Bru people make up the majority. During the course of the Ninth Annual Winter Course on Forced Migration, I met R. Laldawnglians, Vice President and Bruno M, General Secretary of Mizoram Bru Displaced People’s Forum who were in Kolkata to share with the course participants the struggle of their community and living in camps in their own country.

Some excerpts from the interview are produced below.

History of Displacement

Bru people were displaced from Mizoram. Due to step- motherly treatment by the Mizoram state, some educated youth raised demand for autonomous district council under Indian Constitution. In October 1997, Bru villages were burned down by the Mizoram Goverment and Bru people were forced to flee to North Tripura and live a life of refugee in their own country.

Post –Displacement Armed Struggle

Bru National Liberation Front (BNLF) was formed in 1998to take up armed resistance for survival of ethnic identity. They believed that state government and central Government will not listen if they do not take up arms. BNLF has already surrendered in 2006.

Living Life in Camps

Initially (1997) the displaced people from Bru community stayed in Government schools and Market places and after 2-3 months the Government of Tripura gave up land for setting up of Relief Camps. The Government of Tripura set up six camps in Kanchanpur district of North Tripura. The Government opened another camp following the conflict-induced displacement in 2009. Currently there are 7 relief camps and approximately 32,000 people are staying across these relief camps. Since April 2008, the camp residents receive on state assistance through distribution of cash and rice. An adult is entitled to receive Rs 5 per day per adult and 600gms of rice per day; and minor (1-7 years) is entitled to receive Rs2.50 per day and 300gms of rice per day.

Camp Management and Women

Mizoram Bru Displaced People’s Forum looks after the problem of camp inmates. Since we have separate customary laws, Chodari ( a male representative) looks after cases of domestic violence, divorce and other domestic matters. There is a separate Camp Defence Committee which is responsible to prevent crime within camps. Though there are no women members in this committee we have a separate committee for women – Mizoram Bru Displaced Women’s Welfare Committee. This committee is managed by women and usually organised women related activities.

Education in Camps

Each camp has one voluntarily school per camp.

Right to Vote

Some persons have Voter’s Id of Mizoram

Right to Return

We want to go back to Mizoram.

IDMC report indicates that there have been various dialogues between the state and the Displaced people’s Forum and there have been attempts by Bru people to return to Mizoram. Around 1000 Bru Displaced People returned to Mizoram from 21 to 26 May 2010. In early January 2011, the Ministry of Home Affairs introduced a rehabilitation package through grants in aid to Mizoram Government for returnees. The return process was hit when the Mizo groups demanded that the Central Government should also have a rehabilitation package for 80 Mizo families who were forced to flee Sakhan range in Tripura in 1997 and 1998. The Ministry of Home Affairs consented to meet the demand and stated that the return process should continue till October. In September 2011 onwards, Young Mizo Association (YMA) and Mizo Zirlai Pawl (MZP) together with representatives from political parties started an identification process if the returnees to Mamit district in Mizoram were from Mizoram. Incase they were not found from Mizoram they would be deported to Tripura. This move reinstated feelings of mistrust and stalled the return process of Brus to Mizoram.


1 November 2011.“This is our Land” Ethnic Violence and internal-displacement in North-east India. IDMC : Norwegian Refugee Council

1st March : National Mobilisation for Migrants Rights in Italy

On 1 March 2010 and again in 2011 in many Italian cities migrant and Italian workers went on strike together, against the institutionalized racism of the Bossi-Fini law. Many marches and demonstrations accompanied the strike. The workers struck autonomously, finding the support of many fellow workers and many shop stewards. Thousands of people demonstrated their solidarity for migrants and migrant struggle, showing that even in a time of crisis we can struggle for the rights of all. 1 March has become an important date: our intention is that this year it continues to be a day of mobilization and experimentation of new forms of struggle.

This date has become even more important since the anti-Roma pogroms of Turin and the murder of Samb Modou and Diop Mor in Florence. A racist murder that saw provoked an enormous reaction, led by thousands of migrants who invaded the streets of Florence. The time has come to be clear: racism is not simply cultural phenomenon, but is supported by specific laws and legal procedures that consider migrants only as labour to exploit or as an enemy to combat.

•This is evident in the blackmail of residency work contracts (contratto di soggiorno) as it is in migrant detention centres (CIE, ex-CPT).

•It was evident in the fraud amnesty of 2009.

•It was evident in the creation of a refugee emergency after the north African revolutions and the de facto non-recognition of asylum rights.

•It is evident in the daily lives of the children of migrants, who at 18 years old have to follow the impossible rules of a residency permit for study, or enter the workforce immediately with a work residency permit.

•It is all too evident in a “point based” residency permit and a special tax on it, with the objective of unloading on migrants and their salaries the cost of these policies. Migrants pay taxes and the costs of the crisis like all workers and the new permit tax will only add to that, and to those unexplainable 30 euros a migrant must pay the Post Office to renew their permit.

If we do not radically change this state of things that produces hierarchies and clandestinity, simply denouncing racism becomes a hypocritical gesture.

The migrant condition is not separated from that of everyone else, but in its specificity it shows tendencies and dynamic that involve us all, in particular with regards to the world of work and its exploitation. On the other hand the migrant condition is different from that of everyone else, because only for migrants does the crisis and precarity bring the real risk of loss ones residency and possibly imprisonment. Beyond all rhetoric of solidarity, therefore, we recognize that the political clandestinity of migrants and institutional racism have made everybody more insecure. For this reason we want to be in the streets once again this first of march, to widen the struggle against precarity.

The struggles carried out by migrants in these years have taught that there cannot be real improvements without direct protagonism. The march first strike demonstrated that it is possible to strike in non-traditional ways, that workplace struggle can unite where precarity and laws divide.

In the economic crisis and confronted with laws that produce racism and division, we want a movement that brings a radical change to the current state of things. For this reason we are calling for widespread mobilization, with diverse initiatives, that does not limit itself to the first of march, in the spirit of the Migrants declaration approved at Gore'e (Senegal), and based on several shared principles:
•For the end of the Bossi-Fini law, the abolition of the residency work contract (permesso di soggiorno per lavoro) and the closing of all migrant detention centres, in Italy and Europe.
•For the immediate granting of citizenship to all children born in Italy.
•No to a points based residency permit and new taxes on residency.
•For the general regularization for those currently without a residency permit, without frauds and without producing new hierarchies, for the unconditional recognition of the right to asylum.
•Against precarity, for a welfare that isn't based on the exploitation or exclusion of anybody.
•For the construction of a new kind of strike, capable of uniting, and of changing this state of things.

For Pictures visit:

Ethnic Violence and Internal Displacement in North East India

IDMC in a report “This is our Land” Ethnic Violence and internal displacement in north-east India” released on November 2011 discusses the status of displacement in North East India. According to the report more than 800,000 people are displaced within the region as a result of: - violence and displacement in Assam and Meghalaya states in December 2010 and January 2011; violence and displacement in Western Assam during the 1990s and 2000s; and violence and displacement from Mizoram state to Tripura state in 1997 and 2009. Since India’s independence in 1947 the North-eastern region have been witness to episodes of armed conflict and generalised violence. The report indicates that though the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution has been a means of India has been used as a tool for some “to establish a de facto ethnic “homeland”, as it provides special protection to some “tribes” in north-eastern states, by recognising “Tribal Areas” administered through Autonomous Councils. A demographic majority in an area is necessary for groups to seek this status. This has created grievances among minorities living in territories falling under Autonomous Councils. The hundreds of ethnic groups in north-east India do not live in distinct areas, and so their demands for ethnic homelands have often led to generalised violence and, in turn, internal displacement. The number of episodes of displacement shows that the Sixth Schedule does not lead to effective and stable protection of the north-east’s many groups, but rather perpetuates potentially violent competition for land and political power”(pp4).

The status report is divided into six chapters. In Chapter 2: Overview of the numbers of people internally displaced, according to conservative estimates approximately 76,000 people from NE India might be IDPs as a result of conflict induced displacement. One of the problem areas regarding assessing the number of IDPs remain that inadequacy of records. The official information on IDPs in camps is the only information researchers have to rely on which means the vast number of IDPs not staying in camps do not count in the official figures. Similarly, when a camp gets closed the official figures they are not considered as IDPs. Going by the conservative estimates the number of displaced in the region is shown in the table reproduced from the report.

Table 1: Number of People Currently Living in Displacement in North-East India

Chapter 3 discusses the displacement in the Assam- Meghalaya Border region. “In December 2010 and January 2011, violence between Garo and Rabha people in Assam’s Goalpara District and Meghalaya’s East Garo Hills District displaced about 50,000 people. The IDPs were housed in public buildings, mostly schools, in both districts. The authorities initially provided food rations and health services, but sanitation was a problem. Rs. 10,000 ($200) and some building materials were given as compensation to those whose houses had been destroyed. The Indian Red Cross Society and NGOs provided additional assistance. The camps were closed in February and March, in spite of the fact that many people were reluctant to return for fear of further clashes. IDPs and returnees had difficulty accessing livelihoods, and the education of displaced children as well as local children in whose schools the camps were set up was interrupted”(pp 4).

Chapter 4 highlights the situation “in Western Assam, more than 46,000 Adivasis, Bodos and Muslims remained in protracted displacement after several hundred thousand of them were forced to flee ethnic violence during the 1990s. The authorities stopped providing food rations in 2010 and distributed a rehabilitation grant of Rs. 50,000 ($1,000) to many families. The IDPs had difficulty finding livelihoods, and children lacked access to education. Durable solutions seemed out of reach for these IDPs”.(ibid)

Chapter 5 discusses the politics of return of the Bru Displaced community from Mizoram to Tripura.

The status reports also list some recommendations to combat the crisis for the central and state governments and they are:-

For Government of India

•Develop a national IDP legislation and policy in accordance with the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement
•Provide oversight bodies such as the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), with the right to assess the situation
•Ensure that state governments have the capacity to respond to internal displacement situations, and hold them accountable to the recommendations of the oversight bodies above.
•Ensure that the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution of India is not implemented in a way that could create or exacerbate incentives to violence and displacement. (pp6)

To All State Governments in North-East India

•Ensure that members of all communities have equal access to economic opportunities and political power, while being able to preserve their specific cultural identities and practices. This would obviate separate “homeland” demands and prevent grievances that could be exploited by those who aim to incite violence.

For details visit:-$file/India-SCR-Nov2011.pdf

Life After Famine: Future of Somalia’s Refugees

Clar Ni Chonghaile in the article “After the famine: Somalia's refugees ponder their future” in The Guardian shows the struggle that faces at least 185,000 homeless people living in a city (Mogadhisu) of nearly 2 million people. Four million people still need aid, and most of these are in the south. Across the country more than 1.4 million people have been displaced with more than 900,000 fleeing to neighbouring countries such as Kenya and Ethiopia. Last year, Mogadishu was at the centre of a media and aid storm after famine was declared. Though the African troups known as Amisom and Somali Government soldiers claim to take control over the city the security angle of the city makes the task infront of the humanitarian agencies challenging. Al- Shabaab continues to plant IEDs, hand grenade attacks and the displaced continue to live under constant threat of security as well as famine. This report documents the ongoing IDP crisis in Somalia as conflict and famine continues to leave milions of people homeless and the hope of returning back for those belonging to the South seems to be distant as Al-Shabaab continues to dominate in the Southern parts. As an aid worker recalls in the reort, Mogadhisu was one of the beautiful cities in 1980s and now it is a city of IDPs as he watches people carrying sacks of grains from the feeding centre. Hours later, an IED explodes on the route that people take to come to the feeding centre. The main target is a police checkpoint.

For more details visit