India’s Chakma Refugees Forgotten in Floods – Charity

NEW DELHI, Aug 3 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Tens of thousands of undocumented Chakma refugees in India’s remote northeast desperately need basic aid such as shelter, food and clean water as monsoon floods inundate villages and submerge crops, the charity World Vision said on Thursday.

More than 224 people have died in western and northeastern parts of India and millions have been affected by floods that have washed away homes, devastated large swathes of farmland, destroyed roads and disrupted power and phone lines.

Heavy monsoon rains have caused mighty rivers such as the Brahmaputra river and their tributaries to burst their banks — forcing people into relief camps in states such as Gujarat, Assam and Rajasthan. More than 2 million are affected.

But World Vision said that while response efforts by authorities in states such as Gujarat have been commended, the welfare of undocumented Chakma refugees living in far-off Mizoram state, bordering Myanmar and Bangladesh, is a concern.

“The floods have affected some of the most vulnerable – migrant workers, farmers and children. The devastation in Mizoram is immense. The people who live along the river banks are mostly refugees and live in abject poverty,” said World Vision India’s Director of Disaster Management Kunal Shah.

“Without identification papers, they receive no state support. These people are stuck in a no-man’s land invisible to the media and government. They are not recognised by either the Indian or Bangladeshi governments and therefore do not qualify for assistance,” he added in a statement.

India usually experiences monsoon rains from June to September. The rains are vital for agriculture, making up 18 percent of gross domestic product and providing employment for almost half the country’s 1.3 billion population.

But in many states, the rains frequently trigger landslides and cause rivers to overflow; flooding in turn forces millions into temporary camps, ruins crops and exposes people to disease.

The Chakma are an ethnic group scattered in India’s Arunachal Pradesh, Tripura, Assam, Mizoram, Meghalaya and West Bengal as well as in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh and western parts of Myanmar.

They began fleeing to northeastern India from former East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, in the 1960s, but have few rights and many are not registered with the United Nations refugee agency.

World Vision said getting aid – dry food rations, tarpaulin sheets and sanitary towels – to flood survivors in remote, forested areas was a challenge, as roads had been destroyed.

“Reaching out to the most affected people was really tough. It took us two days by car and a two-hour boat trip to reach the remote villages,” said Shah.

“These isolated communities live in densely forested areas. The scant roads that existed before the floods were washed away by landslides. As we floated along the river to the reach the Chakma communities, we saw their houses smashed to bits.”

Reporting by Nita Bhall, editing by Lyndsay Griffiths for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters.