‘Enslaved’ Chin refugee girls rescued, one still missing in Delhi
31 January 2013: Nine out of ten Chin refugee girls and one woman aged between 11 and 23, who were secretly sold as housemaids to Indian landlords, have been saved from their ‘unpaid’ work in New Delhi, India.
The victims, who were coaxed into working as a live-in housemaid through a woman agent from Manipur State, were last week rescued by the police in collaboration with NGOs and Chin communities.
However, the police were, as of yesterday, still searching for a 13-year-old girl who is believed to be in the northwest area of Punjab, according to a source from the Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO).
The ‘rescued’ Chin victims, with one aged 23, two 16, one 15, two 14, and three 13, are now held in a safe condition in police custody as the investigation still goes on.
Mrs Cing Lam Vung, mother of the two victims, said she would be allowed to see her daughters every Wednesday and Sunday.
How it happened
According to an interview with Mrs Cing Lam Vung by CHRO, a Manipuri woman named Kim aka Margaret approached Chin refugee girls and a woman, saying she could find jobs for them.
Knowing their difficult situation of life in Delhi, Kim promised Mrs Cing Lam Vung that she could offer her daughters a job for 6,000 Indian rupees a month.
“Therefore, I think I will send two of my daughters aged 11 and 13 for a month during their school holidays. It was on 17 December last year that I took my daughters to her office,” said Mrs Vung, originally from Tedim Township of Chin State, Burma.
She said she started getting worried about her daughters when she called Kim on 15 January and her phone was switched off.
“I went to her office with my two fellow refugees and it was closed. I rang a telephone number posted on the door and was told to come back on Monday. Again, it was closed,” added Mrs Vung.
On their way back home from the office, she met a Chin refugee girl who was running away from an Indian landlord after jumping off the verandah of the house where she got a job through the same agent.
Mrs Vung said the girl one day asked her Indian landlord to let her go home on leave but the landlord told her that he had given the woman [Kim] 26,000 rupees, and that she had to return the amount first if she would like to go home.
Later, Kim contacted the girl over the phone and asked her to return to her work.
Mrs Vung, who got much worried about her own daughters, said: “I asked her to tell Kim that her landlord was not good and that she needed a new job. Kim asked her to find more girls after she had assured she would find a new landlord for her.”
At night, Kim turned up at the girl’s rented room where Mrs Vung and other five Chin girls, who pretended to be interested in getting a job, also slept.
Kim, accompanied by Mrs Vung with other girls, went to see one of her clients’ houses the following day.
“We stood at the verandah and another Chin girl suddenly came out to me from inside the house. She cried and embraced me asking not to leave her alone,” added Mrs Vung.
After a while, Kim had an argument with the landlord, who informed the police of the situation and let the girl go.
Vung’s two daughters and other girls
Mrs Cing Lam Vung’s two teenage daughters, who were later found working at different locations by the police on 20 January, are taken to Children Welfare Centre for medical check-ups.
“The police brought my two daughters. But their landlords said they were not aware of the situation,” said Mrs Vung.
Ms Kim sold the Chin girls with 10,000 rupees as servants to local Indians, according to the Chin Refugee Committee (CRC) in New Delhi, a community-based organization providing services to refugees from Chin State.
Nine of the Chin girls, who are from the Zomi Community, have been recognized as refugees from Burma by Delhi-based UNHCR.
Some of them worked for one to three months without knowing that their salaries had been taken from their landlords by the dishonest Manipuri agent.
“I know that two of my daughters work to get 3,000 rupees a month each. But I later know that 23,000 rupees has been taken in advance from the landlord by Kim for my daughters,” said Mrs Vung.
It was later confirmed that Kim lied to her landlord clients about the ethnic backgrounds and ages of the girls, saying they were over 18 years old and from Manipur State of India.
“One girl worked from early morning till 11pm at night. The gate was locked until the landlord came back home late at night,” said Sanlek, a staff member of Don Bosco Ashalayam.
No one got their wages, according to confirmed sources.
The ‘dishonest’ agent and her tricks
Ms Kim aka Margaret is believed to have well known the ‘desperate’ situation facing Chin refugees living in India’s New Delhi.
“It is interesting that Ms Margaret would come to Hastal. She met the girls four to five times and later she would give them some sweets,” said Sanlek, of Don Bosco Ashalayam, an Indian NGO working for the protection of children on the streets.
“And she told the children that she knew rich people who do not have children and that they will be treated like their biological daughters and get more money.”
Mrs Cing Lam Vung said Kim told her that her daughters would make 6,000 rupees per month and could work either for one month only or as long as a year.
At the police station in Uttam Nagar on 19 January 2013, Kim, who was also then detained by the police, threatened Mrs Cing Lam Vung, saying: “You, refugees, will never beat me. I have many relatives.”
“I can even destroy your relations with UNHCR. Now I have phoned my relatives,” added Mrs Vung, who was at that time trying to get information about her two daughters.
It is also known that one Kuki organization lodged a report against Ms Kim at the Uttam Nagar Police Station.
On 21 January 2013, staff members from Socio-Legal Information Centre (SLIC), an implementing partner of the UNHCR, lodged an FIR (First Information Report) against Ms Kim to the police.
“She is now in police custody but we don’t know where she is now,” said Salai Bonai, President of the Chin Refugee Committee (CRC) in Delhi.
Ms Kim accused Mrs Cing Lam Vung of committing child labour and of getting involved in the business with her.
“She told the police that she had given me 4,000 rupees for finding the girls. But she never gave me the money. I even paid for a local transportation cost when I went to her office at first,” said Mrs Vung.
It is scheduled that Mrs Vung, who is released on bail, will appear in court on 5 February 2013.
UNHCR has been informed of the situation and it is believed that its direct involvement in assisting the search for the missing girl will be significantly effective.
It is not yet known whether the Indian landlords, who kept the Chin housemaids under slave-like conditions, will also be held responsible for any violations.
The investigation continues.
Situation of Chin refugees in Delhi
Chin refugees stranded in New Delhi have long suffered from a series of serious assaults ranging from rapes, physical attacks to abuses against children, committed by local Indians.
Between the months of June and September last year, more than 120 incidents where Chin refugees, from a child under the age of five up to an elderly over 60, had faced harassment, discrimination, violent attacks and assaults in various ways were documented by CHRO in New Delhi.
No actions have been properly taken against the local perpetrators by Indian authorities.
It is estimated that there are currently over ten thousand refugees and asylum seekers stranded in New Delhi after having fled from Chin State, Burma.
Reporting by A Hmun with Van Biak Thang