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Refugees & the 2nd Covid Wave: Penniless, Unvaccinated and Alone

After the death of 30-year-old Burmese refugee Sang Hlun Thang, before getting infected by Covid, Many refugees don’t

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Refugees & the 2nd Covid Wave: Penniless, Unvaccinated and Alone

India directly provides protection and assistance to 203,235 refugees from Sri Lanka and Tibet, and 40,859 refugees and asylum seekers of other nationalities

Ground report | New Delhi: After the death of 30-year-old Burmese refugee Sang Hlun Thang, who was living in a west Delhi locality before getting infected by Covid, the landlord asked the other members of family staying with him to vacate the house. “The family had barely arrived a few weeks back in India after the recent violence in Myanmar. Many refugees don’t even have money for tests or medicine.

We can't get vaccinated as per documents required by government and there is misery all around,” said Ruata Fanai (43), who is the chairman of Chin Refugee Committee (CRC)-- a small community mobilization group taking care of refugees from Burmese province abutting Mizoram state.

According to United Nations Refugee agency, India directly provides protection and assistance to 203,235 refugees from Sri Lanka and Tibet, and 40,859 refugees and asylum seekers of other nationalities. While India has become epicenter of the global pandemic, the refugees taking asylum in India constitute one of the most vulnerable groups who are not even eligible for vaccination. There are more than 21,000 registered refugees from Myanmar alone. The recent violence has increased the influx from the neighbor.

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Danasty Kelnilen (28)—CRC secretary said that four refuges have passed away after Covid infections while more than one hundred have been infected. While Delhi faces the deadly 2nd wave of the corona virus pandemic, a large number of refugee communities from Myanmar, Afghanistan and Pakistan are finding it even more difficult to cope with the crisis. They are ineligible for vaccines and are facing social stigma as well as economic woes.

"Tibet, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Afghanistan & Pakistan are major regions of origin for refugees seeking asylum in India."

UNHCR Report, January 2021

The number of Burmese refugees has increased after the recent violence and political upheaval in Myanmar. Fanai said that most of the 3200 registered Chin refugees work as factory workers, laborers, house maids etc. They are Christians and most of them live in Vikaspuri, Budhela, Hastsal, Chanakya palace and Uttam Nagar. “No one is able to find any work. When people run away leaving their houses behind they have nothing to sustain themselves during lock-downs. UNHCR is also not helping,” he added.

Requirement of government IDs or Aadhar card for vaccination has meant that they cant get vaccinated either. Sabber Kyaw Min, the director of Rohingya Human Rights Initiative, said that their pleas of vaccinating the refugees based on UNHCR (United Nations Refugee Agency) documents have gone unheard and refugees are still not eligible to get the vaccine shot without an Aadhar card. “We understand that the whole world is suffering along with us.

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We are willing to volunteer for whatever we can do. Many cases of infection are now being reported among Rohingyas in Delhi and Haryana. So many refugees have been refused vaccination at centers due to absence of a valid government ID. The UNHCR should help us in some way,” he added. He said that unlike last year no ration is being distributed in these camps. “Many people who live on rent have complained to us that their landlords have suddenly increased rent. Where will the poor people go?,” he asked.

  • Country of origin - Registered Refugees (UNHCR)
  • Tibet - 108005
  • Sri Lanka - 95, 230
  • Myanmar - 21,049
  • Afghanistan- 16,333
  • Others-3477

NGO's working with refugees estimate that there are around 800-900 registered Rohingya refugees in the city. They are mostly spread across Shram Vihar camp and Kanchan Kunj camp along Yamuna's Madanpur Khadar belt. While Shram vihar houses around 100 families the Kanchan Vihar camp has around 55 families most of which engage in work of labourers, home maids, vegetable sellers, tobacco shops and rag pickers to sustain themselves. A majority f Rohingya refugees hail from the Rakhine state of Myanmar. The Christian Chin refugee community- which is concentrated around west Delhi’s Vikaspuri and UttamNagar- comes from Chin state. Chin community has also set up a small isolation centre in a church in Janakpuri to help infected people, Danasty said, adding that social stigma has been the biggest challenge.

Written By Paras. He bears witness to tragedies and celebrations in a metropolis for a living. You can find him fleeting somewhere in between twenty moods while trying to make some sense of it all.

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