Matthew Wilch , JD, a U.S. human rights lawyer, and Zo Tum Hmung (Masters in Public Administration, Harvard Kennedy School) a Chin community activist from the United States, created this website to share resources about a humanitarian crisis involving ethnic Chin Christians from Burma seeking refuge in neighboring Mizoram State, India. It is for individuals and groups concerned and willing to help understand and address the situation.
About the website
"About us" describes the effort and approach, which began with a trip to India from April 7, 2011, to May 2, 2011, to assess the humanitarian situation of the Chins in Mizoram State, India. "The Report" provides pdfs of the stand-alone executive summary and the full report, about the Chins' protracted, urban refugee situation and the burden on their host community of Mizoram State, India. The report is entitled Seeking Refuge: The Chin People in Mizoram State, India (The Report). "The Photo Gallery" includes trip photos of the Chins and of Mizoram State, India, by professional photographer Steven Rubin. You can also view the photos in the light box section by clicking on any photo in the photo gallery. Within the lightbox, you can see the slideshow with captions by clicking the "i" in the lower left hand corner below the photo. "Resources" provides reports about Chins done by supporters of The Report and maps from The Report. "Updates" includes periodic announcements of new reports or developments about the Chins in Mizoram.
This photo shows local hosts with four members of the delegation who did a 2011 trip to assess the protection and humanitarian needs of Chins from Burma seeking refuge in Mizoram State, India, and also to asssess the burden that the Chins' forced migration places on Mizoram State. In the background is the Indo-Burma border in Champhai District, Mizoram State, India.
The assessment trip and report
The Chin Baptist Churches USA made the initial assessment trip possible by funding trip organizers Matthew Wilch, JD, U.S. human rights lawyer and Zo Tum Hmung (Masters in Public Administration, Harvard Kennedy School) a Chin community activist from the United States. Lutheran World Federation funded a professional photographer for the trip, Steven Rubin, Assistant Professor of Art at Pennsylvania State University. Jenny Yang, Director of Advocacy and Policy for Refugee and Immigration Programs for World Relief, also contributed her expertise to the assessment trip. Other experienced delegation members included Dr. Vijayakumar James, Executive Director, and Polly Mondal, Monitoring Officer of the Program Department, Lutheran World Service India Trust, who joined the group in Aizawl; and Rabindran Shelley, India Country Director, World Relief, and Dr. Prakash Louis, SJ, then Jesuit Refugee Service South Asia Regional Director, who joined the delegation in New Delhi.
The printing of the full report and stand-alone executive summary were made possible by the Chin community, World Relief, and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. The lead writer and editor for the report was Matthew Wilch, and Jenny Yang and Zo Tum Hmung were also writers and editors for the report. The photographer for the assessment trip, report, and website, is Steven Rubin; and Michael Palmer designed the report and website.
The Chin's humanitarian crisis
The Burmese military took over the government in a military coup in 1962. Since then, especially since the nationwide, pro-democracy uprising in Burma in 1988, tens of thousands of Chin people have fled from Chin State, Burma, seeking refuge in neighboring Mizoram State, India. Chins are an ethnic and religious minority group from Burma. Fleeing the widespread and persistent ethnic, political, and religious persecution by the Burmese military regime, their numbers in Mizoram have grown to an estimated 100,000. Because of the remoteness and long-standing travel restrictions to northeastern India, the protracted, urban refugee situation of the Chins seeking refuge in Mizoram State, India, has for the most part been out of sight and out of mind for the international community. Effective January 1, 2011, the central government of Indian lifted the restricted area permit requirement for one year for foreigners travelling to Mizoram State, India. (They lifted it again for 2012.)
We hope and pray that Burma will continue its recent reforms toward being a more free and democratic society. We are encouraged, but they still appear to be small steps on the road to reform, given the deeply embedded culture of brutality and impunity that has pervaded the Burmese military regime and enabled the oppression of the ethnic minorities and pro-democracy activists in Burma for over fifty years. For example, according to a recent Physicians for Human Rights Report, some 92% of households studied across Chin State, Burma, suffered crimes against humanity. This was not in the lifetime of the household but in the previous year. The Chins whom we met in Mizoram State, India, and profiled in the report, including recent arrivals from Burma, described fleeing similar widespread and brutal persecution.
Before Burma is a safe place for refugees from minority ethnic groups to return, there has to be a fundamental resolution of the ethnic minority political issues that allow such widespread oppression to persist for so many decades. A political solution would also have to reverse the governmental neglect of many of the ethnic states in Burma. For example, the lack of government resources to build infrastructure in Chin State and the persecution that includes forced labor and forced taking of agricultural goods without compensation has resulted in 73 per cent of the population living in poverty. These and other details about the situation in Chin State are provided in The Report.
The roundtable approach
In January 2011, we began planning a roundtable, problem-solving, solutions-oriented effort to understand and address the Chins' protracted situation in Mizoram State and also to address the humanitarian burden that the Chins' forced migration places on the host community of Mizoram and host country of India. The effort began with a 26-day assessment trip to India. The trip delegation met with a range of leaders from the Chin community seeking refuge in Mizoram, and with leaders from the government, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and community, and faith-based organizations from the host community. The delegation travelled to the districts of Aizawl, Saiha, Lawngtlai, Lunglei, and Champhai, to the Indo-Burma, border village of Zokhatar, and also to New Delhi. The roundtable effort continues with the publication of a full report and a stand-alone, executive summary, and the creation of this website. The report is a synthesis of the assessment, research, and stakeholder consultations before and after the trip and includes both factual information and recommended ways to address the challenges. The report is not meant as a final say about the situation, but as a catalyst to begin an ongoing, roundtable conversation among Chin, Mizoram, and Indian stakeholders and stakeholders from the international community, UNHCR, NGOs, the European Union, and concerned countries such as the United States, United Kingdom, Japan, Australia, Canada, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, New Zealand, and the Czech Republic. We hope to work toward a common understanding of the humanitarian challenges and solutions. The ultimate goal is to address the Chins' protection and humanitarian needs with fairness and compassion and reduce the humanitarian burden on Mizoram State and India.
Leading faith-based organizations and NGOs wrote statements of support for the report including Baptist World Alliance, Chin Baptist Churches USA, Lutheran World Federation, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Women's Refugee Commission, World Evangelical Alliance, and World Relief.
For information about the report, website, or roundtable effort please contact Matthew Wilch and Zo Tum Hmung at email@example.com