Evolution of the Desk
The Other Media has been engaged with the Burmese refugees since the late 1980s when Burmese people started fleeing human rights violations. The assistance varied with most of the intervention through the Advocacy and Campaigns Desk. In response to our increasing involvement, the Refugee Desk was established in November 2003 in Vikaspuri.
The Refugee Desk has been involved in legal aid and assistance and interventions in health care, employment related issues, violence in the community and support to the Burmese campaign for political change in Burma. In the past, it has also been involved in generating support among the Mizo students and human rights organizations in Mizoram for the Chins who arrive in the state in large numbers. Until March 2006, its Refugee team in Mizoram was working in the Southern region of the state with offices in Aizwal and Lunglei. The work focused on documentation and research on protection and livelihood issues of the Chins, building groups of sympathizers among the Mizo intelligentsia and civil society organizations. Our work in Mizoram is currently being restructured.
The Refugee Desk was formally established in West Delhi in Vikaspuri in November 2003 as our involvement with the Burmese refugees increased. At the time of establishment of the desk, several factors contributed to the nature of our work. In November 2003, a group of 24 Burmese refugees, protesting in front of UNHCR office for being denied refugee status, were arrested. At the same time a large number of Burmese were driven out of their homes in several towns/cities in Mizoram following the YMA campaign against ‘foreigners’. We directed our efforts at these two issues.
Mandate and Work
The Refugee Desk is mandated to strengthen the existing support services for the Burmese in Delhi, support campaigns and programs of the various Burmese organisations, campaign for a policy on forced migration in India and the restoration of multi party democracy in Burma.
Our work focuses on legal assistance, human rights advocacy and awareness, political campaigning, and intervention in areas of children’s education, health and employment. In Mizoram, we have been involved in generating support among the Mizo civil society groups and academia for the Burmese struggle in the past.
Legal assistance continues to be one of the major day to day activities of the Desk. Among the fundamental problems of the Burmese when they arrive in Delhi is the lack of knowledge about the legal system and the UNHCR. Refugees arriving in Delhi seek information from about community elders and those who have already used the system. Thus, RD’s intervention relate to the assistance provided in Refugee Status Determination and other legal issues that may arise in the community. Our network of lawyers offer pro bono services in case of trial.
Apart from legal assistance, the Refugee Desk also responds to requests for assistance in case of access to health care where RD takes on a more facilitating and support role.
Campaign for a refugee law in India
India has neither ratified the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugee and the 1967 Protocol nor has it adopted a law for the protection of refugees in India. There is no disagreement that refugees in India need protection, but the existing ad-hoc policy has managed to do so only to a minimal extent. A lack of consensus is however evident in the debate about the implication of refugee protection legislation given the diversity in the nature and character of forced migration in India. Attempts have been made in the last decade as well as in the recent years to draft a Bill and lobby the Government to adopt it as a law, but unsuccessfully. While efforts continue to lobby the current establishment to study and consider the Refugees and Asylum Seekers (Protection) Bill, 2006, it remains to be seen if the Government would seriously consider tabling the Bill in the Parliament. The Other Media (TOM), given its experience in closely working with issues of forced migration in the North East and in New Delhi with the Burmese (as well as Afghans and Somalis in the recent years), finds it necessary and useful to instead broaden the canvas. Any policy in the future needs to necessarily take into consideration various migratory movements and the differing response of GOI. This would in turn answer fundamental questions such as the regional approach to refugee protection and management in the South Asian context, etc. Is the 1951 Refugee Convention an answer to the nature of migration flows in the region? What are the implications of “burden-sharing” in the South Asian region? The Refugee Desk’s work on a campaign for a refugee law in India seeks to answer these questions.
The Refugee Desk appreciates any assistance you may like to extend to the refugee community in Delhi. As you may know, a large number of refugees arrive in Delhi every day hoping to make a decent living in the city, free of fear and abuse. Although many do get recognized by UNHCR and get some allowance for a bare living, many others are not so lucky. Even among those who are recognized as refugees, surviving from day to day is not an easy task, especially if they come from a different culture, speak a different language and face an often hostile community.
Although Delhi hosts a large number of, among others, Burmese, Afghans and Somalis, there is no orientation either for the refugees or the host community to understand each other better and assist the refugees in settling in the city when they arrive. Therefore, they often have to rely on friends and family who help them find an accommodation, food, clothing etc. Even when they do get assistance from their own community, it is often barely adequate for two square meals a day.
Therefore, your contribution can make a different in at least one person’s life.
We appreciate donations in the form of
- Uncooked food such as rice
- Stationery such as books, pencils etc.
- Any other household item that you think is necessary for home.
If you believe that you have skills that you would like to use, we would appreciate your involvement.
The Refugee Desk offers internship all through the year. In the course of our work, we have worked with lawyers, doctors, the media, etc and therefore are open to students of any of the social science disciplines. Students may write to us explaining why they wish to work with the Refugee Desk, and any specific area they would like to focus on.