x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

India's act of kindness

Undocumented refugees from north-eastern Myanmar are benefiting from a new Indian government decision that allows them obtain working visas.

It's difficult to imagine a life as fraught as that of Ms Phunmawi, a Burmese teacher who fled her country after the soldier who had raped her returned to kill her. Five years later, her husband is deceased and she remains separated from her two children, who are living with their grandparents in Myanmar as she struggles to earn a living and help other Burmese women as a community worker in Delhi.

As The National reported yesterday, Ms Phunmawi, now 36, is one of the thousands - perhaps up to 100,000 - undocumented refugees from north-eastern Myanmar who will benefit from an Indian government decision this month to grant long-term visas to all refugees. The visas, which can be renewed annually for up to five years, will enable them to work legally for a fair wage and gain access to higher education.

In the past, the Burmese have been exploited, working in the "informal sector" for half or less the amount earned by their Indian co-workers.

For Ms Phunmawi, there may be an opportunity to return to teaching; for her compatriots, there is the promise of security and the ability to make plans without fear of deportation.

New Delhi should be applauded for this humanitarian gesture, which stands as a lesson for every government with refugees on its soil.