Church in India reaches out migrants, refugees
di Santosh Digal
India is a nation with big tradition in welcoming migrants and refugees. With this spirit, the Church in India today welcomes migrants and refugees. But, it still can do much more in concrete ways, especially in educating their children, empowering the women, offering legal aid, and so on. The parish community is the immediate place where a migrant or refugee can seek help. The CBCI Office for Labour, that is is part of the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC), assists its regional counterparts in giving awareness on this matter.
The Church in India welcomes refugees, but still can do more to help them echoing the message of Pope Francis “Every stranger who
knocks at our door is an opportunity for an encounter with Jesus Christ.” This was the message of Bishop Alex Vadakkumthala, Chairman, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) Office for Labour.
“India has also been a home to refugees (Tibetans, Bangladeshis, Sri Lankan Tamils. India is second to Bangladesh as the largest refugee-receiving country in South Asia. Since the Independence in 1947, India has received significant numbers of refugees fleeing conflict or persecution, not only from some of its neighbouring countries, including Afghanistan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Tibet, but also distant countries like the Islamic Republic of Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, and Uganda. Despite no provision in domestic law for refugees, the government of India has nevertheless put in place positive administrative frameworks and judicial decisions supporting refugee protection practices,” said Bishop He Vadakkumthala.
Issues of migration and refugees in India have to be addressed with a human rights perspective. Down through the years, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the UN have adopted a number of conventions and recommendations to protect international migrant workers against exploitation and discriminatory treatment, and protect their right to social security, the prelate said.
“I believe India which promotes hospitality to welcome all as a valued guest which will take proactive steps with regard to Rohingya refugees through proper dialogue. Since the office of the UNHCR has issued identity cards to about 16,500 Rohingyas in India, which it says helps ‘prevent harassment, arbitrary arrest, detention and deportation’ of refugees. Governments must go for peace; parties to the peace process should make concerted efforts to address related issues in multilateral and bilateral talks to ensure the safety and dignity of
refugees to facilitate durable solutions,” he said.
He also urged all to have the empathetic view from the Government and the civil society on these Rohingya brothers and sisters who have become stateless, homeless and living in constant fear. The Rohingyas in India are desperately in need of basic amenities of life such as food, water, medicine and shelter. They are located in unauthorized settlements in private lands in the suburbs of cities like Delhi, Chennai and Hyderabad and engaged in rag picking and segregating wastes. They get a meagre amount for the work they do which is insufficient for their living. They need to be provided with supplementary food, potable water and necessary medication. The camps they stay are overcrowded, lack sanitation and have the possibility of an outbreak of communicable diseases. Half of the population are children and elderly who need proper medication. Children need vaccination against preventable diseases. The makeshift houses they stay are made of bamboos and the available waste materials. There were incidents of these houses catching fire and all their belongings including their clothes burnt off. Therefore, properly thatched tents with fireproof materials will give more safety to their life and belongings.
Most Rohingya, including those who arrived in recent months, are not formally recognized as refugees by the Indian Government. This lack of formal status creates barriers to obtaining some government services and limits their access to livelihood. It also introduces a host of protection-related concerns since these individuals lack access to the justice system and legal recourse. Lack of proper identity proof restricts their freedom of movement. Some of the Rohingyas who travelled to meet their relatives in another camp were caught by police and put in jail.
Refugees face restrictions on the education of their children. A few children in the camps have access to education that too run by an NGO.
Since the children do not know Hindi or the local language they cannot attend the government schools. There were incidents of harassments by the locals and teachers on the children who chose to attend the government schools nearby.
Overcrowding in the camps, restrictions on the freedom of movement, harassment by the local people and lack of formal refugee status have left the unique adverse impact on the women and girls. They feel so unsafe and insecure in the camps. They are afraid to move out alone both day and night even to fulfil their basic needs. Women are unable to report cases of harassment, domestic violence, or sexual abuse to the police, as lack of recognized legal status in India prevents them from accessing the justice system. They are not getting pre-natal and post-natal care. The women cannot protect themselves from risks associated with delivery in the camp. The concerns of human
trafficking and abduction of the children were also reported.
The Catholic Church in India extends her assistance to the refugees through various organisations and individuals. The Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) is an international Catholic organisation with a mission to accompany, serve and advocate on behalf of refugees, asylum seekers, those internally displaced by conflict or disaster, and those returning home after years seeking refuge abroad. Other organisations
like Caritas India, CBCI Office for Labour in collaboration with like-minded NGOs and Diocesan Social Service Units, reach out to the refugees in consonance with the direction of the Government to help them meet their basic needs.
The Church in India welcomes migrants and refugees. But, it still can do much more in concrete ways, especially in educating their children,
empowering the women, offering legal aid, and so on. The parish community is the immediate place where a migrant or refugee can seek
help. The CBCI Office for Labour assists its regional counterparts in giving awareness on this matter. The Church in India is part of an International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC), where CBCI Office for Labour is a member.
On June 7, Fr. Jaison Vadassery, secretary, CBCI Office for Labour, was elected as the Secretary to ICMC. This is an opportunity to address the issues and look for cooperation from International bodies and organizations. ICMC was precisely created to support Catholic
organizations in responding to the needs of the displaced persons and refugees. Shortly after its creation, the ICMC Secretariat was established in Geneva, Switzerland, with the aim of collaborating closely with the newly created United Nations bodies on migration and refugee issues.
“On behalf of the Church in India, we speak for our people languishing in other countries as illegal migrants and refugees. There are cases our office has successfully dealt with in collaboration with the Government in repatriating the victims. We should always keep in mind that ‘every stranger who knocks at our door is an opportunity for an encounter with Jesus,’” the Bishop said.