|Prospect Burma's English Language School, India|
Burmese refugees continue to cross the border into India in large numbers, hoping to find a better life after the poverty, civil strife and injustice they have left behind. Many end up in Delhi, seeking refugee status from the UN High Commission for Refugees. But what they often find is further hardship; a very small allowance from the UNHCR, discrimination from employers, and intense difficulty in building a new life. In 2003 the UNHCR began phasing out its subsistence allowance to these refugees who are therefore facing a most bleak and perilous existence.
Since 1998, Prospect Burma has been funding an English Language school for Burmese refugees in New Delhi. It is run by Daw Thin Thin Aung, a pro-democracy activist who left Burma after the 1988 crackdown, and herself spent two years in a refugee camp on the Indo-Burma border. She writes:
"There are about 1,000 Burmese refugees living in Delhi, 80% of them Chin. Some of the Chin people come to India because of their involvement in the 8.8.88 mass uprising, but the majority came because they wanted to escape from economic hardship, forced labour and religious persecution. Most refugees are unemployed largely due to lack of security, language skills and hostility from the local community. Though Hindi is important for us to communicate with neighbours and street vendors, English is essential to achieve the skills needed for long term self-reliance."
Our funding means that 60 refugees each year have free access to the classes, basic equipment and free transport to the school without which they could not afford to attend. Classes are both for beginners and at intermediate level, and graduating through both has enabled students go on to further study, many to business school or to computer studies, gaining skills which dramatically improve their prospects for self-sufficiency and a successful new life.
A year's study at the school for one refugee costs just £100 per year. If you would like to give a refugee the skills needed to build a new life in India, please go to How to Help on the main menu.
Thousands of Burmese refugees and students in India live in pitifully poor conditions and face a bleak and uncertain future. The meagre subsistence allowance to UNHCR-recognised refugees is being phased out, and many find their claims for recognition rejected.
In January this year, Patricia Herbert, Prospect Burma's Vice-Chair, visited New Delhi, meeting many young Burmese refugees and community leaders, explaining the procedures for applying to Prospect Burma's individual Scholarships Programme, and learning of their problems and aspirations.
She also visited Prospect Burma' English Language Teaching School in Janakpuri, which employs two trained teachers and provides free English classes for 60-70 students a year. The ELT School was founded in 1988 when the first wave of Burmese refugees arrived in India in the wake of that year's mass-democracy uprisings. New refugees are still arriving seventeen years later, the majority remaining in educational and financial limbo. Prospect Burma's School offers students a vital chance to improve their English and to take the first steps towards realising their dream of obtaining higher education, finding employment and one day returning to their homeland.
This year, of the 500 applications for scholarships we received, more than 200 came from students based in India. Some arrived recently having fled Burma because they supported Aung San Suu Kyi's tour of Northern Burma and the Chin State in May 2003. A young Chin wrote of his involvement in youth associations and the church, saying: "I produced a pamphlet on people's difficulties and problems. The Military Intelligence arrested me, keeping me in Falam lock-up for two days without food and beating me mercilessly. The MI made me sign a bond saying if I was involved in any pro-democracy activities again I would be arrested and imprisoned for life. So I fled."
Another student wrote succinctly: "If people are educated they can check the government abuse of power. That is why the military government rejects the importance of education: if people remain uneducated the government can rule and oppress as it wishes."
The School continues playing a vital role amongst India's Burmese refugee community, costing £10,000 (US$20,000) to run this year. Your support can help us expand the School's teaching capacity and student intake, opening the door to a better life for literally hundreds of refugee students in New Delhi. If you would like to give a refugee the skills needed to build a new life in India, please go to How to Help on the main menu.
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