Plight of refugees moves UNHCR ambassador

un“We left the Sri Lankan coast in a fishing boat and luckily made it to India. The boat that went before us capsized and there were no survivors,” 25-year-old Krishandhini recalls that fateful day when she was forced to leave her war-stricken homeland. She is one of the many Sri Lankan Tamils who had to flee their country and find refuge in India. She is now living with her family in a refugee camp near Chennai.

Krishandhini is just one of the 32,000 refugees registered under United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) India, and was one of the seven young refugees to open her heart out to actor John Abraham on the World Refugee Day. Mr. Abraham, a celebrity supporter of UNHCR India, spent a few hours with the refugees from Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Myanmar and Somalia on Saturday.

Mr. Abraham, star of films like Dhoom and Kabul Express, found their stories extremely moving. “While shooting for Kabul Express in Afghanistan, I had a firsthand experience of a war-torn area and saw a lot of Afghans leave their country. Also, the Sri Lankan crisis has been very close to my heart. These experiences have been an eye-opener. The plight of refugees not only in India but all over the world has to be taken note of,” Mr. Abraham said.

Struggle for survival

It has been 25 years, but the struggle for survival continues for Krishandhini and her family. She and her elder sister, Divya 27, were sent to college by her parents. They hold an MCA and B.Tech-IT degrees respectively, but have found it extremely difficult to find a decent job due to their refugee status. “Our mother stayed away from us for 12 years. She went abroad and found a job as a cook. She had to leave to raise the money for our education. We are well educated but since we are refugees, we do not have a proper identification document and are consequently unable to find a job that pays well and can support our family,” Ms. Divya told The Hindu.

Jafar belongs to the Rohingya community in Myanmar and had to abandon his home due to the oppression of the government. They initially found refuge in Bangladesh but due to frequent communal tension in that country, they soon moved to India. He now lives in Shaheen Bagh in New Delhi with his family.

“We had to take an official permission even for travelling from one village to another. Men are forcefully taken by the Myanmar army to work as labourers. Many have never returned, nobody knows if they are dead or alive. Even to get married, we need to take permission from the government. They refuse to recognise us as equal citizens,” Jafar said. He finds going back to his native land a far dream. Though this new land has not imposed restrictions on him, there exists a thick air of distrust between the refugees and the locals. Finding a well paid job is very difficult for him and people from his community. He wishes to study but earning enough to make the ends meet is his first priority.

20-year-old Barlin lost her father to the Somalian conflict in 2005. She was separated from her family and even today does not know their whereabouts. In 2010, she was adopted and brought to India. Her new friends in India helped her learn Hindi and now she works as a translator, helping other Somalian refugees settled in New Delhi. As much as she likes her new home, she wishes to be at a better place. (The Hindu)

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