Refugees in India share daily struggles with UNHCR chief

News Stories, 21 December 2012

© UNHCR/ N.Bose
High Commissioner António Guterres admiring traditional weaving done by women from Myanmar at a refugee centre in New Delhi.

NEW DELHI, India, December 21 (UNHCR) Urban refugees in the Indian capital told UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres of their daily challenges during a two-day visit in which he discussed concrete steps for strengthening UNHCR's partnership with the government.

Guterres visited a refugee centre in New Delhi on Thursday and met eight exiles from Afghanistan, Myanmar and Somalia. They told him about the financial difficulties they face, and the challenge finding places to stay.

"We live on railway station platforms and in open fields. We have nothing to eat. The world is watching our plight, but no one is doing anything," claimed 44-year-old Fazal, a Rohingya refugee from Myanmar. India has kept its borders open to the Rohingya and allowed them to stay and work.

High Commissioner Guterres spoke warmly about India's generosity towards all refugees. On Wednesday, he met External Affairs Minister Salman Khursheed and Home Affairs Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde for talks on boosting refugee protection and strengthening ties between UNHCR and India.

"It is a special time in relations between UNHCR and the government," he said. The government has discussed possible timelines to address issues like the issuance of long-stay visas and work permits to refugees and the naturalization of Hindu and Sikh refugees from Afghanistan.

Although India has not signed the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and does not have a national refugee law, the human rights of refugees and asylum-seekers are protected by the constitution. They have access to health care and their children can go to school.

However, they say that they face challenges as refugees on a day-to-day basis, such as discrimination, finding accommodation and employment. Women, especially in New Delhi, don't feel safe, even in their homes.

Wilo, a single mother with eight children, claimed that Somali women face discrimination all the time. The High Commissioner later said he was distressed to hear about some of the problems the refugees faced. "We must work together with governments to increase [and improve] safety for women [and all other refugees]."

There are about 22,000 refugees and asylum-seekers under UNHCR's mandate in India, and many more Sri Lankans and Tibetans directly assisted by the government of India.

"God has given responsibility to some human beings to take care of other human beings." Fazal from Myanmar told the High Commissioner. "Your institution is one of them. We are grateful that you have come from so far to listen to us. Please help us."

By Nayana Bose in New Delhi, India




UNHCR country pages

Desperation on the Andaman Sea

For days, they were an undertow, an unseen tide of people adrift in the Andaman Sea. UNHCR and its partners had warned that thousands of Rohingya and Bangladeshis were held captive at sea, then abandoned as their crew fled government crackdowns on smuggling and trafficking networks.

Then a green boat surfaced on TV, packed with emaciated men, crying women and sick children, all dehydrated, hungry and desperate. It gave a face to the problem, then vanished overnight. After five days drifting between the coasts of Thailand and Malaysia, some 400 people on board were finally rescued by Indonesian fishermen in the early hours of May 20.

They are among more than 3,000 lucky ones who have been able to come ashore since May 10 in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, where UNHCR is helping to assess their needs. Thousands more could still be stranded at sea. In a welcome statement on May 20, the Foreign Ministers of Indonesia and Malaysia agreed to bring these vulnerable people to shore - a move that will hopefully end the long nightmare at sea.

Desperation on the Andaman Sea

Cold, Uncomfortable and Hungry in Calais

For years, migrants and asylum-seekers have flocked to the northern French port of Calais in hopes of crossing the short stretch of sea to find work and a better life in England. This hope drives many to endure squalid, miserable conditions in makeshift camps, lack of food and freezing temperatures. Some stay for months waiting for an opportunity to stow away on a vehicle making the ferry crossing.

Many of the town's temporary inhabitants are fleeing persecution or conflict in countries such as Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq, Sudan and Syria. And although these people are entitled to seek asylum in France, the country's lack of accommodation, administrative hurdles and language barrier, compel many to travel on to England where many already have family waiting.

With the arrival of winter, the crisis in Calais intensifies. To help address the problem, French authorities have opened a day centre as well as housing facilities for women and children. UNHCR is concerned with respect to the situation of male migrants who will remain without shelter solutions. Photographer Julien Pebrel recently went to Calais to document their lives in dire sites such as the Vandamme squat and next to the Tioxide factory.

Cold, Uncomfortable and Hungry in Calais

East Africans continue to flood into the Arabian Peninsula

Every month, thousands of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants from Somalia and Ethiopia cross the Gulf of Aden or the Red Sea to reach Yemen, fleeing drought, poverty, conflict or persecution. And although this year's numbers are, so far, lower than in 2012 - about 62,200 in the first 10 months compared to 88,533 for the same period last year - the Gulf of Aden remains one of the world's most travelled sea routes for irregular migration (asylum-seekers and migrants). UNHCR and its local partners monitor the coast to provide assistance to the new arrivals and transport them to reception centres. Those who make it to Yemen face many challenges and risks. The government regards Somalis as prima facie refugees and automatically grants them asylum, but other nationals such as the growing number of Ethiopians can face detention. Some of the Somalis make their own way to cities like Aden, but about 50 a day arrive at Kharaz Refugee Camp, which is located in the desert in southern Yemen. Photographer Jacob Zocherman recently visited the Yemen coast where arrivals land, and the camp where many end up.

East Africans continue to flood into the Arabian Peninsula

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