Monday, June 30, 2014

The Increasing World of the Displaced

-Priyanca Mathur Velath & Aparajita Das

As this issue of RWO goes online the shocking reality confronting us is that the number of displaced people is the highest ever today in the world. This number is only increasing with every passing day. While the main reason for this is being attributed to the exodus from Syria, the recent addition to this has been the flight of more than 300,000 people from Mosul, Iraq, after swathes of it are being captured by Sunni extremists. To make things worse Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region is not receiving Iraqis who are fleeing the attacks by Sunni militants. While refugees from the war-torn nation Afghanistan continues to form the largest single group of refugees, new refugees are also emerging from recent conflicts in Central African Republic, South Sudan and Ukraine.

In fact Syria’s tragic story reminds us of the irony of fate, of how in the past five years civil war has converted the world’s second largest refugee-hosting country into the world’s second largest refugee-producing country. A grim reminder of how realities change when people fearing their life, are forced to flee their homelands, leaving behind all they had. Figures point out that by the end of 2013 there were 6.5 million Syrians displaced within their own country, making them the single largest group of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the world. Meanwhile Syrians continue to pour out across their borders into the soils of Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.

Another recent flash point has emerged within Pakistan with the exodus of refugees, now living in miserable conditions after fleeing fighting in North Waziristan. Reports claim that nearly 466,000 people have poured out of the tribal agency borderingAfghanistan following the start of a long-awaited effort to stamp out the Pakistani Taliban and other militant groups who have made the region their home. In Kenya’s Turkana county, people fleeing from the internecine conflict in South Sudanare on the verge of starvation in the crowded shelters. The county is reeling under famine like situation. And what is worse is that around 70 percent of refugees are children under the age of five years.

There are more than 16 million refugees right now hosted by some country or the other and 33.3 million IDPs. These numbers are likely to go up as reasons for forced displacement varies – in some cases the state has failed to provide safety, some due to persecution, civil war and in Iraq it is the violence perpetrated by a non-state actor. At the same time we must not forget to acknowledge and applaud agencies/ institutions which are attempting to rehabilitate refugees/ returnees/ IDPs such as in Sri Lanka.

The bigger crisis, yet again, is of the paucity of humanitarian aid to handle such figures of displaced persons. Reportedly only thirty per cent of the record $16.9 billion asked for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) had rolled in from donor countries.Antonio Guterres, head of UNHCR, has grimly warned that “There is no humanitarian response able to solve the problems of so many people….It’s becoming more and more difficult to find the capacity and resources to deal with so many people in such tragic circumstances.” Besides, as Alexander Betts notes, “The nature of displacement is very different…the cases of displacement are very different, and the needs of the displaced population are very different.” (i)

In India, the 16th General Election in May 2014, resulted in a decade-old Congress-led government of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) being ousted by a new government, now in place, of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). It faces the challenge of implementing the recently passed Land Acquisition Bill, 2013 which will decide the fate of all those displaced by developmental projects. Not being a signatory of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and yet home to numerous refugee groups, India continues to face the challenge of finding comprehensive legal solutions for not just refugee but also IDP populations within it. (ii)

The UN Refugee Agency is continuing with their campaign “1 family torn apart by war is too many”. The agency with the support of the international community including media, NGOs and INGOs need to intervene even before a war breaks out. With complex conflicts among different sects, borders, claims over territories, persecution of minorities, often lot of time is wasted who will intervene and when and to what extent. There have been cases of intervention in the past but very few countries are ready to share the burden of refugees who are fleeing to escape horrors of war or for life. The first attempt should be to ensure the fleeing people’s physical safety and then to integrate into the host society or repatriate them back. In all this lot of mental trauma is involved which often remains unhealed for the entire lifetime.

On this note, to commemorate World Refugee Day (June 20) this issue of Refugee Watch Online, brings together a host of perspectives of those forcibly displaced from different countries and regions. We begin with a guest post from Pakistan, by Imran Khan Laghari, a practicing refugee lawyer in Pakistan and also Executive Director of Human Rights Alliance. Laghari highlights the challenges of continuously sharing the burden of hosting huge numbers of Afghan refugees for over three decades now that a non-signatory country like Pakistan faces.

The remaining four articles have all been written by Masters Students of the Political Science Department, St. Joseph’s College, Bangalore. Ashwathy Vijayan, on return from her summer internship at the Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies in Colombo, reflects on the current status of the resettlement process in the island nation of Sri Lanka that is still recovering from the aftermath of a twenty-six year old civil war wherein the government led a military campaign against militancy.Kriti Chopra, during the course of her summer internship in New Delhi at the Indian Council for World Affairs in New Delhi explored the tragedy of the persecuted and unwanted Rohingya refugees from Burma, who are also seeking refuge in large numbers in India. The perils of development-induced displacement are deliberated on by Sonam Wangchuk Nadikpa, who during the course of field work for his Master’s Thesis, had spent some time on two dam sites in Sikkim. Finally we have a round up of the crisis inSouth Sudan presented by Kaikho Osha. We end this issue with some recent updates in the News section.


i)See Nick Cumming Brice
ii)India grants asylum and provides direct assistance to some 200,000 refugees from neighbouring countries. As the country lacks a national legal framework for asylum, UNHCR conducts registration and refugee status determination (RSD), mostly for arrivals from Afghanistan and Myanmar. More than 24,000 refugees and asylum-seekers of diverse origins are protected and assisted by the Office in India.

Challenges of Refugees in a Non-signatory Country: A Situation Analysis of Pakistan

- Imran Khan Laghari


Unlike other refugee receiving countries of the world, Pakistan has been host to one of the largest population of refugees since three decades, the majority of whom originate from Afghanistan. Pakistan is home to 1.6 six million registered and 1.4 million unregistered refugees. Government of Pakistan warmly welcomed millions of Afghan refugees upon their arrival in the country. Not only government but also people of Pakistan initially welcomed Afghan refugees due to their shared cultural and religious heritage, and considered it their duty to help and host these refugees. In Pakistan, refugees have access to basic services (health, education and shelter), freedom of movement and liberty to earn livelihood in non-signatory country. Refugees have received numerous supports from different institutions of government. Registered refugees are having proof of residence card to access the basic services and movement.

Historical Background

Between 1979 and 1997, UNHCR spent more than USD 1 billion on refugees in Pakistan. In addition to this, large amounts of ‘unofficial aid’ were given to refugee camps. But after the withdrawal of the Soviet Union from the region in 1989, the West lost interest and aid sharply decreased. This prompted a change in attitude from the Pakistan government; it became eager to rid itself of the ‘burden’ of these refugees and began strongly encouraging them to repatriate.

As of 2011, UNHCR had registered 1.7 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan, but there are still an estimated 1.3 million unregistered refugees, bringing the total number of refugees to nearly 3 million. Approximately 85 per cent of the refugees are Pashtuns, while the remaining are Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras, and other ethnic groups. Forty per cent of refugees live in camps or refugee villages, while the remainder lives dispersed in urban/rural areas.

National Reception

Refugees received warm reception in Pakistan. Government of Pakistan has opened borders for refugees during the major influxes of Afghan refugees that were during the Soviet war in 1979 and United States’ War on terror in 2001. Government has established numerous camps for Afghan refugees along the border and even provided food assistance to the Afghan refugees without the support of United Nations.

Assistance for Refugees

At first instance government of Pakistan provided support to Afghan refugees. Later, with support UNHCR government issued Roshan Cards (passbooks) to Afghan refugees. Through these passbooks refugees could access to food assistance, healthcare and education. Besides, government helped UNHCR in voluntary repatriation.

Voluntary Repatriation

The Government of Pakistan (GoP) has a quadripartite agreement with Afghanistan, UNHCR and Iran and is once again actively encouraging and facilitating ‘voluntary return.’ The 1951 UN Convention requires that repatriation must be voluntary in every sense. Refugees must not be threatened or coerced. They may return unconditionally and spontaneously, and may do so at their own pace. They must not be arbitrarily separated from family members and they are entitled to be treated with full respect and acceptance by citizens of their host and home country, including the full restoration of their rights. They must be able to return in safety and with dignity under conditions of legal safety, physical security and material security.

In March 2010, the government of Pakistan adopted a strategy for Afghan refugees called the Management and Repatriation Strategy of Afghan Refugees(AMRS) in Pakistan 2010-2012. The key objective of this strategy was the voluntary repatriation of all Afghans. This mass repatriation, which was facilitated by UNHCR starting in 2002, was one of the most rapidly organized voluntary repatriation movements in history. Till date, approximately 3.5 million people have returned to Afghanistan from Pakistan alone. UNHCR and the international community alike, calling it a ‘remarkable operation’ that, provided a ‘solution to what seemed an intractable refugee situation’, have praised the movement.

However, many refugees who returned have found it difficult to survive and integrate in their ‘homeland’, as some have never lived there before, and many have been forced to consider seeking refuge once again, either in another part of the country or by crossing an international border. Further, the security situation has steadily deteriorated in Afghanistan due to continued fighting between local and regional elites. There has been a resurgence of Taliban forces targeting aid personnel. Approximately 60 per cent of the country has been designated insecure. There have been some repatriated Afghan refugees, who have claimed to have been forced to return through threatening or coercive means.


The Government of Pakistan, with the support of UNHCR started registration process of refugees in 2005. This process was officially completed in 2007. Under it more than a million refugees received identity cards, named as Proof of Residence Card (POR Card) after registration. Refugees having POR card can access health care, education and earn livelihood. Refugees holding POR card have freedom of movement. The refugee card is a crucial document that enables Afghans to legally remain in Pakistan and thereby provides protection against risks such as harassment, extortion, arbitrary arrest and illegal detention as well as deportation under Pakistan's Foreigner's Act.


The Government’s plan to issue more than a million such cards this year is welcome as it will provide 330,000 Afghan children below the age of eighteen, birth certificates for the first time (allowing them access social services and basic rights – such as school enrolment, and allows or the issuance of documentation). This becomes an important protection for refugee children as it helps to prevents statelessness, makes it easy for children.

However, the Government of Pakistan has also announced that after 30 December 2015, there will be no further extension of POR cards for Afghan refugees. It is now considering cancelling the refugee status of all remaining Afghan refugees, a move which is receiving considerable international attention and could cause up to 3 million refugees – the world’s largest single cluster – to lose state protection and face the possibility of expulsion. Cancellation of these cards will be a big blow. It highlights the intention of the Government of Pakistan of removing unregistered refugees to Afghanistan as well. These are Afghans who have been left out of the registration process due to the absence of a male family member, bribery of government or NGO workers, and fear of registration due to a lack of proper information.

Thus in the absence of a formal refugee protection regime in Pakistan, under international and national law, refugees continue facing numerous protection issues in the country. These protection issues are increase in harassment, intimidation, physical torture, arrest, illegal detention, deportation and limited freedom of movement. There is very limited access to refugees’ settlements and vice versa due to security situation in the country. On the other hand their stay is perceived in the context economic migration and terrorism both by government of Pakistan and locals. This situation continues to make the life of refugees difficult.


“Pakistan begins issuing new cards to 1.6 million refugees”, UNHCR Briefing Notes,

Towards Success: The Sri Lankan Resettlement Process

-Ashwathy Vijayan

The second term of His Excellency MahindaRajapaksa as the Sri Lankan President was undoubtedly the outcome of the decisive nature of his first term. His decision-making has been attributed to being the major reason for the end of the thirty year old conflict between the militant group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and Sri Lankan Army. Aristotle had once said, “It is not enough to win a war; it is more important to organize the peace.” Prophetically, ensuring durable peace has been the biggest challenge for both, the Sri Lankan government and President. No one had imagined of a warless state or a phase where people could think about development in Northern Sri Lanka. The victory over LTTE has not just given this beautiful island its share of peace but also its government a chance for development and integration.

Towards durable peace - Resettlement Criteria

In its path towards this focus, the first step of the Sri Lankan government was the formation of a Presidential Task Force (PTF) with Basil Rajapaksa as the chairman and S.B. Divaratne as the Secretary. This 19 member force was appointed to focus on the development and security in the Northern Province. They were given the authority to prepare strategic plans, programs, to resettle IDP’s, and rehabilitate and develop the economic and social infrastructure of the Northern Province. In 2014, looking back at the development and reconciliation of Northern Province, anyone would congratulate the PTF for its contribution and hard work.

However the challenge that the government and the PTF faced was regarding giving temporary shelters to the IDPs i.e. the persons internally displaced due to the protracted conflict in the island region. This issue was sought to be addressed through the united efforts of the government, PTF, NGOs and army.Around 95 per cent of people had been provided temporary shelters in Menik Farm ever since civil war ended in May 2009. These people have now been resettled back into their original places of habitation. Mr. Divaratne explains the four criteria that were followed in the process of resettlement. Firstly, he asserts, the resettlement process was voluntary. The second criterion was that displaced persons were resettled in their original places of habitation. Third, the process was sought to be dignified and safe. Fourth, the Sri Lankan army was involved in this resettlement process. The resettlement policy also envisaged criteria like involving informed choice of the displaced family/persons through facilitation of “go and see visits” prior to resettlement. Besides, the provision of housing or assistance of shelter and livelihood development was also made to the resettled families.

With these criteria PTF has been able to resettle (as per the latest data available dated April 30th 2014)153,265 families and 509,282 persons in the Northern Province. To be exact 16,350 families in Vavuniya, 31,188 families in Jaffna, 40,333 in Mullaitivu, 41,074 in Kilinochchi and 24,320 in Mannar. However programmes are underway to resettle about 60 families and 7,288 IDPs still remaining. Along with these 1,194 families in Jaffna are in welfare centers and about 4,560 with their friends and relatives.

Challenges to Resettlement

Demining: For the purpose of demining, Humanitarian Demining Unit was set up under the Sri Lankan Army. The demining process which included both technical and non-technical surveys was prioritized to facilitate rapid resettlement. It has an impressive record in demining operations although the forest areas will take some more time to be cleared completely.

Prior Arrangements for Resettlement: Foreseeing the fear and tension in the minds of the IDPs, arrangements were made for the IDPs to visit their places of origin before resettling. Special actions were taken up by the government to ensure the availability of basic facilities when the people were resettled. Security forces ensured protection and transport facilities during the movement of IDPs.

Restoration of Basic Structure: There has been rapid rehabilitation of infrastructure through the 180 Days Program.

Provision of Temporary Shelters: The first priority regarding the process of resettlement was to provide temporary shelters to the IDPs and the responsibility of providing proper shelter was take up by the government, army and NGOs. The PTF consulted several humanitarian agencies and decided on three types of shelters i.e. temporary, semi-permanent and permanent houses. Immediate actions were taken up to provide cash grants and shelter materials for the people to either repair damaged houses or to construct temporary shelters. Once the livelihood activities progressed, semi-permanent houses were constructed in place of temporary houses.

Projects to build Permanent houses were later on taken up by government, Sri Lankan Army, India and other INGOs.

Water and Sanitation: Ensuring safe water and proper sanitation was also given importance. About 15,000 wells were cleaned or renovated during this period as most of the wells in resettled areas were contaminated and damaged. In this regard, National Water Supply and Drainage Board took lead with support of UNICEF. Some NGOs also played a major role in the cleaning and reconstruction of wells.

Some of the other major challenges the government faced during the initial resettlement process were the reconstruction and development of roads and railways, transport facilities, health services, housing, education sectors, water supply and sanitation, restoration of electricity, revival of agriculture, fisheries sector, banking sectors, private investments etc.

Anyone who visits these areas can evidently witness the rapid development that has happened here. In a short span of 5 years, government has reached out to almost every corner with its development programs.

A Permanent Peace?

The biggest challenge that still remains is the process of reconciliation and this has to come from within Sri Lanka, its people and its government. This country alone has borne the brunt of a thirty year war. It is the Sri Lankan people, both Sinhala and Tamils, who have been affected by the war. People have just started to live in an expectation of peace. They are still trying to convince themselves that no bomb blasts are going to happen nor are they going to lose their family in war, no one is going to come and take away their kinds to join the militant groups. People have started to see a new light towards normalcy. And thus, they have to be given some time to adjust themselves and reconcile. What Sri Lanka needs is reconciliation and not polarization. Bringing the Tamils and Sinhalese together and restoring their mutual relations has somewhere fallen by the side.

It is imperative to give attention to the process of psychological reconciliation. It is important to build a bridge of trust amongst the communities. It is debatable if this can happen with the withdrawal of army from the North. With the benefit of hindsight it can be seen that the roots of the entire conflict lay on the issue of ownership of land, which came up along with the differences between religion and language. Besides colonial rule has also contributed its share in dividing both the communities and leaving a major attitudinal change among both. The real reconciliation process thus will come up only with the acceptance of both the communities of each other as the equal owners of this island and not as threat to each other.

Post-conflict, India and Sri Lankan relations have embarked on a new chapter with rigorous cooperation in various fields. However the conflict did create stress within the nations and its political affairs. With the end of the military operations, both countries are focusing on issues of relief, rehabilitation, resettlement and reconciliation. There is also focus on a permanent political solution of the ethnic conflict. With the change in Indian government after a decade, there are chances that both countries will start focusing more on strategic relations. Today with the current phase of progress it looks likely that though a permanent and durable peace will take a while, but stability is certainly a possibility for the region and this beautiful island.


*Photographs and graph taken from the presentation made by Mr. SuntharamArumainayaham, Government Agent/District Secretary, Jaffna District on 7th May 2014
*IDP current status and details provided in person and emailed by Mr. Divaratne, Secretary, Presidential Task Force for Resettlement, Development and Security-Northern Province

The Demand for Power and the Tussle with Nature – Sikkim’s Dilemma

-Sonam Wangchuk Nadikpa

It was on May 27, 1927, at Ranikhola near Gangtok, that the first micro hydroelectric project was commissioned in Sikkim. But while the demand for electricity kept on increasing, the period from 1927 to 1957 witnessed a clear neglect of the power sector. It was the post 1993 period that saw the commissioning of numerous micro hydroelectric projects. (Government of Sikkim 2013) Now with a liberalized power policy and an accompanying shift towards mega-hydroelectric projects the state of Sikkim is officially poised towards gain. (i)

However the construction of series of mega-hydroelectric projects raises concerns about displacement of locals, the ecological sustainability of the region and other survival issues. The 2013 Uttarakhand floods warned hilly states like Sikkim against haphazard construction of dams in the name of development. Despite this today there are about 28 Mega Hydroelectric projects in a small state like Sikkim, some completed and some ongoing. (Lepcha 2014) To explore the ground situation, I visited Sikkim, my home state,to conduct field work for my Masters dissertation titled Energy Insecurity in India: A Case Study of Hydroelectric Projects in Sikkim. I met locals and officials affected by Teesta Stage V Hydroelectric Project (East Sikkim) as well as Dikchu Hydroelectric Project (East Sikkim).

Teesta Stage V Hydroelectric Project

The Teesta Stage V Hydroelectric project (510 MW), a run-of-river scheme located in East Sikkim, is one of the first projects commissioned in the cascade development of Teesta River on 31 March 2008 as an undertaking of the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) (ii) It aimed at improving the financial requirements of the state as well as ensuring surplus power to power scarce neighbouring states. It intends to improve the living conditions of locals, increase employment opportunities and thereby control the migration of jobless people to other regions of Sikkim. Officially, the NHPC has also extended rehabilitation and resettlement measures to the displaced persons, which includes compensation for land, house, standing crops and other properties, free education to the children of the displaced locals.

My fieldwork in Lower Samdong, AapDharaand nearby villages like Lower Kambal, amidst people affected by the Teesta Stage V project site, showed that people living near the project site had gained through employment opportunities (wage labourers or contract jobs). Even the local grocery shops had flourished as the officers working in the project site would purchase huge amounts of local grocery. Some people opined that the surrounding areas of the project had gained through construction of better roads. Heath facilities have been provided for the people living near the project site. In addition medical camps for the villages have been organized by NHPC in collaboration with Sikkim State Hospital.

However with the boon comes the bane. The disadvantages of the hydroelectric project according to the locals were majorly environmental. The villagers I met are worried about imbalance in the ecosystem due to the felling of forest trees by the power developers. They worry that the habitat of endangered animals might be destroyed near the project site. Thirty two year old resident of Aap Dhara village, Anil Kumar Rai who works in a nearby veterinary hospital alleges that there have been drastic changes in the environment due to the project.

Besides, hydropower wastes are directly dumped into the river which kills marine life causing an imbalance of river ecology. An investigation report titled “Environmental and Social Impacts of Teesta Stage V Hydroelectric Project, was released by Manju Menon and Neeraj Vagholikar of Kalpavrish, a Delhi-based Environmental Action Group on May 2004. The report highlights that during the construction of tunnels large amount of muck and rock debris have been dumped directly into the river which will have negative bearing on the biodiversity of the area.

There have also been instances of submergence of land leading to displacement of people. Land within 50 metres of the damsite has been acquired citing dangers involving in the project. My field work led me to a small house submerged near the damsite along with its surrounding land. The issue of submergence can also be seen in the houses of Abhi Chandra Sharma, aged 75 years, a resident of Lower Kambal Village and other residents. There have been reported cases of unjust land acquisition along with allegations of disproportionate and discriminatory distribution of compensation money. Small-time farmers complained that they were given less amounts when compared to those in higher influential positions. Keshab Bhattarai, a resident of Lower Samdong as well as Rudra Prasad Ojha, a farmer now residing in Rakdong (East Sikkim), whose lands in Lower Samdong were acquired, complained of indiscriminate compensation amounts. Affected villagers even blamed the state government along with the project developers for such inequality .Some of the villagers are also facing water shortages due to water diversion and allege that this affects agricultural productivity.

Dikchu Hydroelectric Project

Tenkilometres away from the ongoing Teesta Stage V Hydroelectric Project, is the Dikchu hydroelectric project (96 Megawatt), an under construction run-of-river project on the Dikchu River, a tributary of Teesta River at Dikchu village in East Sikkim (taken up by Sneha Kinetic Power Projects Private Limited (SKPPPL), a private conglomerate).The power house is located in Dikchu village whereas the dam site is situated up north in a village name Lingdok. When I went to meet officials at the power house of Dikchu, they were reluctant to share any information about the dam.

The residents here are worried about the impact on the environment of the felling of trees. Noise and air pollution due to the ongoing construction are also cause of concern for them. I interviewed the locals and all of them added that their houses have been damaged due to the blasting activities in the project site. Residents Hem Prasad Chettri and Pushpa Lal of Lingdok village alleged that constant blasting at the construction site has created deep cracks in their houses. There has been official acceptance that the blasting for tunnel-construction has damaged nearby buildings. This has also resulted in landslides in the area. However for such damages villagers are unlikely to get any kind of compensation. During my meeting with a group of Lingdok villagers a consensus also emerged that the animal species living near the project site are on the verge of extinction. (iii)

Displacement of people living on the proposed project site and the area to be submerged has become an emotional issue. Most of the projects are located in the remote areas where people are illiterate and have few options of gainful employment. Thus the state government or developers are successful in acquiring their lands at cheaper price. There have been rehabilitation and resettlement programmes but they are neither satisfying nor adequate. The displaced people are given a small piece of land in nearby or distant places which is fit neither for living nor for cultivation of any crops.


One of the major advantages of the hydroelectric projects that the people accepted was the fact that people were hired contractually. The power developers have also started afforestation programmes, health check-up camps and other awareness programmes. People said that there has been supply of drinking water with water tanks provided. Even though the majority of villagers I met were unhappy with the construction of hydroelectric project, the most interesting point to note is that some locals favour such projects despite of the disadvantages, for these benefits.

In recent months unhappy with the resettlement the locals along with NGOs like Affected Citizens of Teesta (ACT) and Sikkim Bhutia Lepcha Apex Committee (SIBLAC) have been staging regular agitations, hunger strikes. Some of their concerns have been aired by television channels and online websites. Locals are becoming more and more vocal about their concerns and disappointed that their concerns are largely unheard. West and North Sikkim has witnessed mobilisation of Lepcha and Bhutia tribes against such protests. Challenging such projects in courts might be one way of resolving their problems. The 97 MW Tashiding Hydroelectric project (West Sikkim), 300 MW Panam Hydroelectric Project (North Sikkim) have witnessed massive protests from the residents as well as from independent organisations of Sikkim. The Panam Hydroelectric Project has been suspended for the time being whereas power developers of Tashiding Hydroelectric project has been challenged in High Court of Sikkim by the public as well as independent organisation like SIBLAC.

But due to immigration of contractual labourers there has been a reported increase in crime and such inflow of outsiders is viewed as a threat to employment of locals. The government needs to scrutinise the projects on grounds of sustainability before sanctioning them. The locals, NGOs and independent environment experts should be involved in the decision making process. In addition to threat to life and occupation these projects are also affecting the cultural heritage of indigenous tribes. Lands of the primitive tribes have been taken away. The heritage and natural beauty of Sikkim is not being preserved.

Picture 1: Overview of Teesta Stage V Hydroelectric Project in Lower Samdong, East Sikkim

Picture 2: Submergence of land near Teesta Stage V Hydroelectric Project

Picture 3: Cracks seen in the house of Abhi Chandra Sharma, 75 years of age, who stays in Lower Kambal (area nearby Teesta Stage V Hydroelectric Project). The cracks were mainly due to blasting activities done by the power developers near the damsite

Picture 4: Cracks seen in the building of Mr. Anil Kumar Rai, age 32 who stays in Aap Dhara. The area is affected by both Teesta Stage V hydroelectric project and to some extent Sneha Kinetic Hydroelectric Project

Picture 5: A house located within 200 to 300 meters where Teesta Stage V Hydroelectric Project has been set up. The building has been evacuated due to its danger of collapsing any time. The building also has full of cracks

Picture 6: House of Mr. Hari Prasad Chettri, Age 42 who is residing in Aap Dhara. He has been given an order to evacuate his house as soon as possible as it is located very near to damsite where construction works are going on as well as swift River Teesta flows nearby

Picture 7: Poor maintenance of river water as well as throwing of debris in the TeestaStage V Hydroelectric Project in East Sikkim

* All pictures courtesy Sonam Wangchuk Nadikpa


i)For each mega Hydroelectric Project being set up Sikkim Government gets 12 per cent of free power. This would mean a profit of 80 to 85 crores annually which will definitely improve the socio- economic conditions of the people of Sikkim and also revenue base which will make the state economically self-dependent in future.
ii) NHPC, where the Government of India has a major stake, in return for setting up the power project allocates the Sikkim government 12 per cent of 510 Megawatt power absolutely free of cost. Financially this free power could mean an annual profit of Rs 80 to 85 crore to the government of Sikkim as mentioned in the salient features of Teesta Stage V Hydroelctric project prospectus published in June 2008.
iii) Teesta eco-region is rich in plants, animals and micro-organisms. It is world’s 12 mega biodiversity zones. The region is also rich repository of 500 odd species of medicinal herbs.


1.“About Energy and Power Department”, Government of Sikkim, (online: Web) Accessed on November 22, 2013
2.Lepcha, Tseten (2014), Email Interview with the Working President of Affected Citizens of Teesta (ACT), February 23, 2014

Persecuted and Unwanted: Plight of Rohingya Refugees in India

-Kriti Chopra


The Rohingyas have been described as the ‘World’s least wanted’ and the ‘World’s most persecuted minorities’. Victims of ethnic cleansing and ongoing violence in their homeland Myanmar, they have been facing persecution since the 1960s. In 1982, the government deprived them of their Burmese citizenship unless they proved that their ancestors lived in Burma since 1832.

Since the 1980s, curfew-like conditions in their homeland has forced close to a million Rohingyas to flee to neighbouring countries especially Bangladesh. The current wave of persecution and ethnic cleansing spearheaded by Buddhist monks can be traced back to February 2013 when thousands of minority community were expelled and their houses and community facilities were destroyed with reportedly in connivance of the Burmese government. An estimated 1,50,000 Rohingyas have since fled their country taking refuge in Bangladesh, India, Thailand and Malaysia. Many have died while attempting to flee in small boats.

Living Conditions

The Rohingyas have been attempting to get recognition as refugees by UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), something that has finally been achieved after years of persistent effort. India neither has a special law pertaining to refugees, nor is it a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention, 1951. Officially, India from the very beginning has been accommodative of the community. However, even in India the community faces a number of problems. This minority community continues to suffer at the hands of differential treatment meted out by India to refugees of different countries, as deemed suited to its political and diplomatic interests. Thus Rohingyas continue to live in pitiful conditions in their host countries, unable to avail education facilities, jobs, and even identity documents.

During the months of April and May, 2014 I learnt more about the condition of the Rohingyas in India by interviewing one of the UNHCR officials. She stated, in India they have inserted themselves into the interstices of Delhi, in areas like Nizamuddin and VasantVihar, and others have proceeded further to U.P, Haryana, Jammu, etc. Some have settled in camps on the relatively invisible and porous border between Uttar Pradesh and Delhi, at KalindiKunj. There is no provision for potable drinking water, no sanitation facilities either, which is particularly grievous for the womenfolk. The camp area is a low-lying piece of land that turns into a snake infested swamp during rains, which claimed the lives of three children this year. In bitter cold winter, the people burn tyres and junk to find some warmth.The location of the camp land on the Delhi-Noida border areas ensures that the faintest shadow of development work approaching the settlement stays mired in bureaucratic apathy. Further, the threat of additional displacement is ever-present, as attempts by various quarters to evict them periodically start gaining momentum.

To demonstrate their disastrous condition on May 7, 2014 the Rohingya community in New Delhi staged a protest rally to highlight their sufferings and deplorable living conditions. They demonstrated to urge the international community to look into their plight. They also brought attention to the violence in Myanmar, where hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims are suffering from a severe shortage of food and drinking water. Humanitarian aid deliveries have slowed down in Rakhine state as a result of an escalation in sectarian violence. Due to lack of empathy on the side of the Myanmar’s Government hundreds of people mostly belonging to the Rohingya community have been killed in Myanmar since the outbreak of the sectarian violence back in 2012.

Health Issues

The greatest issue faced by the Rohingyas, both in their homeland and host countries, today is their healthcare. Many of those displaced by recent violence live on the outskirts of Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine. There are reports almost daily about deaths; many of them are pregnant women experiencing complications that could have been prevented, according to aid workersin the camps.

Those who have fled to India are not able to survive on the limited access to food and shelter and on the other hand they are scared to return to Myanmar as they fear that they will be killed. It is believed that the recent attacks on the Rohingyas in Myanmar have been more severe than the 2012 violence. However, the roots of all issues and atrocities faced by the community today lies in the 2012 violence. The fear that has grown over two years in which ethnic violence in Rakhine, mostly by Buddhist mobs against the community, has left up to 280 people dead and forced another 1,40,000 from their homes. They worry Buddhist doctors and nurses will hurt or even kill them, though aid workers, now just beginning to return to Rakhine, say there is nothing to suggest that these rumours are true. Even in India they suffer due to the absence of adequate medical facilities that they can access.

Political Apathy

The current government of President TheinSein, which has been lauded for implementing political and economic reforms over the last year, has also come under criticism for continuing the junta's discriminatory policies towards the Rohingya. They were given voting rights in Myanmar’s landmark 2010 elections, with the promise of citizenship if they voted for the military regime’s representatives. Citizenship, however, has still not been granted. The plight of the Rohingya has yet to be made an integral part of any reconciliation program involving ethnic groups, which is a dismaying warning sign.

Human rights activist, head of opposition and NLD leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has also been criticised for failing to speak out. Aung San Suu Kyi has taken a neutral stance, despite earlier pleas from the European Union to take a stand on the issue. The parliament’s Rule of Law Committee - chaired by Aung San Suu Kyi - and ethnic leaders to discuss steps to prevent new clashes between Muslim Rohingya and Buddhist Rakhines requested the government to clearly define its citizenship policies, maintain transparency in its efforts to secure the region, and to act in accordance with Myanmarese law, thus washing its own hands off the citizenship issue. Interesting to note here is, that although the Committee spoke about bringing the violence to an end, it made no specific mention of the Rohingya themselves. Rather, it seemed to pass the onus to do so largely on the government.

The Road Ahead

The Rohingya problem has now a raging persistent international human rights issue. Myanmar has been criticised by various international organisation especially the EU for not dealing with the issue with utmost sincerity. Myanmar is in a stage of transition and introducing economic and political reforms. Political and economic reforms alone do not measure the success of a nation, the humanitarian and social issues need to be dealt with giving them the importance they deserve. Myanmar cannot possibly be called a country on the path of transformation if it fails to accommodate the ethnic minorities – the Rohingyas. There is an urgent need for the international and regional communities to continue exerting pressure on the government of Myanmar to meet its obligations.

Myanmar can resolve this longstanding crisis by either amending or repealing the 1982 Citizenship Law to recognise Rohingyas as an ethnic group of Myanmar. A recentreport by Fortify Rights states that the policies of the Myanmarese government restrict the Rohingyas movement, marriage, childbirth, home repairs and construction of houses of worship. Such discriminatory laws should be immediately withdrawn to stop the further persecution of this minority. Meanwhile those Rohingyas living on Indian soil are continuing their struggle for a life of dignity on alien territory.


•“Burma: Rights group insists Rohingya in more danger than ever”, Asian Correspondent, Asia, June 2, 2014 (online:Web), Accessed on June 3, 2014
•“Burma census bans people registering as Rohingyas”, News Asia, Asia, March 30 2014 (online: Web), Accessed on May 2, 2014
•“Myanmar’s Buddhist Rohingya demand”, Aljazeera, February 4, 2014 (online: Web), Accessed on May 10, 2014
•“Myanmar Migrants fear Violence”, The Myanmar Times, Myanmar, June 28, 2013 (online: Web), Accessed on April 29, 2014
•“Rakhine Violence may be Crimes against Humanity”, The Myanmar Times, Myanmar, March 17, 2014 (online: Web), Accessed on May 17, 2014
•“Root causes of Rohingya crisis lie in Myanmar”, The Daily Star, Bangladesh, May 19, 2014 (online: Web), Accessed on May 27, 2014
•Stateless and Unwanted”. Aljazeera, America, April 8, 2014 (online:Web), Accessed on May 18, 2014
•“The Plight of Rohingyas”, Astroawani, Myanmar, June 2, 2014 (online:Web), Accessed on June 2, 2014
•“Aung San Suu Kyi’s silence on the Rohingya: Has the lady lost her voice?”, Huffington Post, America, May 31, 2014 (online: Web), Accessed on June 1, 2014
•“UN raises alarm over Rohingya Muslim abuse”, Aljazeera, Asia, April 8, 2014 (online:Web), Accessed on May 2, 2014

The Crisis of South Sudan

- Kaikho Osha

South Sudan, the newest formed nation, born out of decades of conflicts, still looks a long way from reconciliation. The conflict that erupted in the middle of December 2013 has escalated into a full-fledged civil war between the government troops and the rebel factions, killing thousands of people and displacing hundreds of thousands. It has forced more than one million people to leave their homes, over 80,000 people to take refuge in various UN camps, set up across the country; and more than 320,000 people to take shelter in the neighbouring countries.(i) The country is torn apart today by civil war.

The Birth of South Sudan

South Sudan declared independence from Sudan in July 2011. Decades before, in 1956 when Sudan was getting ready for independence from joint British and Egyptian rule, South of Sudan prepared to revolt against the new authorities condemning it of betrayal, in creating a federal system, in addition to the attempt of asserting Islamic and Arabic identity. A civil war broke out in 1955 between the south headed by Anya Nya guerrilla movement, and the Sudanese government. The Addis Ababa peace agreement of 1972 put an end to the long-standing conflict and granted the south a measure of autonomy. (ii)

However, as an outcome of the Sudanese government’s withdrawal of the autonomy bargain, the south rebelled again in 1983, led by Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the armed wing, Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA). The conflict claimed over 1.5 million lives, rendered and more than 4 million people displaced, and sent a, massive exodus of population fleeing to neighbouring counties and northern Sudan. (iii)

It was in 2005 when the conflict ultimately ended with the signing of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which granted South Sudan with regional autonomy and also provided for referendum.(iv)

The overwhelming majority of Southern Sudanese people voted in favour of independence from Sudan in the January 2011 referendum and, accordingly South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in July 2011. As the new country celebrated its freedom, the people were unaware that it would soon fall into a power struggle, leaving the country in catastrophe.

Genesis of Current Conflict

On the 15th of December 2013 an intense gunfire battle broke out in the South Sudan’s capital Juba, President SalvaKiir claimed forces devoted to Machar, the ex-vice president, were responsible for the gunfire. Ten people were arrested, together with eight former ministers. But this battle that erupted in the middle of December 2013 soon escalated into a full-fledged civil war. The government troops headed by the PresidentKiir who is also from the Dinka ethnic group, the largest in South Sudan, and the rebel faction headed by DrRiekMachar, who is from the Nuer ethnic community, the second largest ethnic community in Southern Sudan,(v)succumbed into a struggle for power, turning the crisis into an ethnic conflict.


According to the recent report of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) it is estimated that over 323,613 populations of South Sudan have taken refuge in the neighbouringcountries'since December 2013. About 111,058 of the population have taken refuge in the neighbouring countries before the incident of December 2013, bring the total to 434,671, (updated 23rd May 2014) sheltered in the bordering countries Ethiopia, Uganda, Sudan and Kenya. The refugee population comprises 46 per cent of males and 53.4 per cent females.(vi)

The Situation

The clashes between the two factions have turned the country into a slaughter field, claiming hundreds of thousands of lives. (vii) Of the 900,000 internally displaced South Sudanese, the (UNHCR) stated that since December 2013, more than 80,000 people have taken shelter in various UN camps set up across the country. There are reports that conditions for women are neither safe inside nor outside these camps. Today, more than 4.9 million people are in need of humanitarian aid. The ongoing crisis has forced the International Committee of the Red Cross to commence on its first airdrops of food and supplies aftera gap of two decades. (viii)

There is an alarming food shortage as the fighting has disrupted all forms of commerce. In the WauShiluk Upper Nile State, it is reported that the conditions have deteriorated so much that people are engaged in eating leaves and grass to fill their stomach. (ix)Productionin plantation firms may stop, fishermen no longer feel safe working in the rivers, hordes of domestic animals gone astray. (x)

The absence of food and clean water has led to a spike in case of malnutrition and, it is estimated that over 223,000 children are without food and water. More threatening is the constant threat of outbreak of cholera, in Juba and in different parts of the country, due to the lack of hygienic facilities.(xi)

The 50-nation conference hosted by Norway along with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) resulted in countries making commitments to raise $ 1.2 billion for South Sudan on humanitarian aid, all together 22 countries have given assurance to donate in cash for eg. United States committed $290 million, Britain $101 million, European Union $76 million, Norway $63 million and Qatar $10 million. However, the UN has indicated that more aids would be needed to facilitate food and shelters in the region, estimating over $1.8 billion as a target for humanitarian aid. (xii)


South Sudan is in a desperate need of help today, as the country formed only a couple of years ago, stands plunged into a devastating civil war. The leaders struggling for power would not have foreseen the price they would have to pay for freedom and ironically, lives of the citizen becomes merely an instrument of power in the hands of the leaders. The country cannot handle the shattering impact of the civil war by itself and other countries need to help this conflict torn nation. More nations will have to come forward and contribute. Just as we had welcome South Sudan independence as the newest nation in the world, the nation needs us as it is on the brink of collapse.


i) Oxfam, “Crisis in South Sudan” Accessed on: 20 May 2014, URL:
ii) “South Sudan profile” BBC, 23 April 2014, Accessed on: 20 May 2014, URL:
iii) Ibid
iv) Ibid
v) Timeline: Fighting in South Sudan” Mail and Guardian, 02 January 2014, Accessed on: 21 May 2014, URL:
vi) UNHCR, “South Sudan Situation” Accessed on: 20 May 2014, URL:
vii) UNHCR, “More than 11,000 South Sudanese flee to Ethiopia after fall of rebel-held town” UNHCR, 6 May 2014 Accessed on: 20 May 2014, URL:
viii) “South Sudan in Peril” The New York Times, 17 May 2014, Accessed on: 21 May 2014, URL:
ix) Kushkush, Isma’il, “Food crisis Worsens in South Sudan as Civil War is Displacing Millions” The New York Times, 19 May 2014, Accessed on: 21 May 2014, URL:
xi) Ibid
xii) Lewis, Mark, “Nations Double South Sudan Refugee Aid to $1.2 Billion” abc News, 20 May 2014, Accessed on: 21 May 2014, URL:

Australia and Sri Lankan Boat Refugees

The Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has refused to confirm claims by refugee activists that a boat carrying Tamil asylum seekers off the coast of Christmas Island is in trouble. On the other hand, refugee activists said the 21m boat carrying 153 asylum seekers, which left from India, had sprung an oil leak and was 250km from Christmas Island. However, a man claiming to be aboard the boat told Fairfax Media via satellite phone: “We are experiencing huge waves and very bad conditions. We are very afraid and at threat. We have only three litres of water left. We can only manage for today, and tomorrow we will have nothing to drink.” The man said the group are all refugees from northern Sri Lanka – mainly the war-effected cities of Jaffna and Mullaitivu - who had sought refuge in south India before leaving for Australia on June 13. Since then they have been subsisting mainly on biscuits and milk. He said two of the children on board, one aged 3 months and the other two years, “are sick with vomiting, fever and headaches. They vomit up the milk and biscuits.” The man put their position at “about 175 miles from Christmas Island". He said they had received assistance from some Indonesian fishing boats, but had not yet spotted any Australian navy ships. “The wind is increasing,” said the man. “It is a very difficult situation, sir.” The refugees' vessel, a 72-foot blue hulled fishing boat, is said to be carrying 37 children and 32 women. According to refugee advocate Ian Rintoul, it has a leak in the oil pipe supplying the engine. “They are only travelling very slowly, about 100km a day,” he said. “They are very anxious, and they aren’t sure they will be able to make it to Christmas Island without assistance.”

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Ireland to Resettle Syrian Refugees

The UN’s refugee agency has welcomed the Ireland’s decision to resettle 220 refugees in 2015 and 2016, including many from war-torn Syria. The announcement, made in Geneva yesterday at a high-level UN meeting on resettlement of Syrian refugees, came as states began offering additional places over the next two years for those displaced by the crisis in Syria. “This is further proof of the Irish Government’s commitment to finding solutions for refugees around the world,” said UNHCR Ireland head of office Sophie Magennis. “Some 2.8 million people have fled Syria since the conflict began in 2011,” she said.

“On current estimates, that figure will rise to 4.1 million by the end of 2014. Another 6.5 million Syrians are internally displaced, meaning that half of Syria’s population has now been forced out of their homes.” Ms Magennis added that, as a result of this, the UNHCR anticipated that in the coming years there would be increasing numbers of vulnerable Syrian refugees in need of resettlement, relocation or other forms of humanitarian admission.


Refugees in Stand-off With Police at Berlin School

Hundreds of police officers have surrounded a former school in Berlin which has been occupied by refugees who refuse to leave. The predominantly African refugees are demanding the right to stay in Germany, even though most of their asylum applications have been rejected.

Adam, a Sudanese refugee who only gave his first name, told reporters Friday that many of the migrants had climbed onto the roof and were ready to jump off the building if police entered it. The tense stand-off involved 40-80 refugees and supporters who stayed in the building after police earlier this week evicted the majority of the roughly 200 who had occupied it since 2012. City officials say they are willing to negotiate with the refugees about their demands, but only if they leave the school.


Ukrainian Refugee Exodus Continues

The republics in Russia’s North Caucasus will receive over 500 refugees from southeast Ukraine, a Russian Emergencies Ministry source told Itar-Tass. An Emergencies Ministry plane delivered 125 people, of whom 48 are children, from Simferopol to Mineralnye Vody, on Saturday, June 28. Rescuers, doctors and psychologists accompanied the refugees onboard.

“Employees of the Russian Emergency Ministry meet the refugees at the airport and take them to accommodation centers. The people receive psychological assistance and informational help,” the Russian Emergencies Ministry source said. Alexander Drobyshevsky, the Ministry’s spokesperson, told Tass that more than 16,800 Ukrainian refugees were staying at 282 temporary accommodation centers set up in the regions of the North Caucasian, Southern and Central federal districts as well as Crimea and Sevastopol.

Many people who are coming from a war-torn country need psychological and medical help. The local branch of the Federal Migration Service will start registering the refugees soon to legalize their stay in Russia. At present, the Republic of Karachay-Cherkessia has 241 refugees from Ukraine, 11 of who arrived in the republic independently and are staying at relatives and friends.