Vasant Vihar residents disrupt traffic, want Burmese asylum seekers out
Publisher: Indian Express
Author: Sumegha Gulati
Story date: 06/05/2012
Language: English

Members of the Vasant Vihar Welfare Association (VVWA) staged a protest on Saturday morning against the alleged inaction of (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) UNHCR and other authorities in shifting some 800 Burmese refugees who have gathered in this South Delhi locality for the past one month.

Nearly 100 residents gathered on the road outside UNHCR's office located in Vasant Vihar at about 11 am. They blocked the road and disrupted traffic. The protesters were demanding the removal of the makeshift huts set up by the Burmese refugees and asserted that the "asylum-seekers be shifted to proper camps".

On April 9, a small group of Burmese camped near the UNHCR office. But the numbers swelled thereafter. "These people have escaped the repressive regimes of their own country. However, they do not have refugee status and have been demanding the same from UNHCR. They are now living on the pavements in B-block colony of Vasant Vihar, posing grave risk to our health and security. Despite several letters to the L-G, Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of External Affairs as well as the Chief Secretary of Delhi, nobody has paid heed to our pleas," said Gautam Vohra, president of VVWA.

Vohra had written to the Home Ministry on April 16 about how the presence of UNHCR's office in the locality had become a constant problem for residents and needs to be closed down.

In a letter to Sushma Swaraj dated May 2, Vohra explained how the "UNHCR has admitted that the task (of providing shelter to refugees) is beyond its resources". He argued that both the Delhi government and the Central ministries concerned had failed to act on their pleas and requested Swaraj "to raise the issue in Parliament."

Expressing concern over the health hazards posed by the presence of so many people in the colony, Vohra said the "refugee shelters, which are denied the most basic amenities such as toilets, are fast turning Vasant Vihar into a hot spot of filth and disease."

The VVWA called off the road-block at 12.45 pm after a police party arrived at the spot and tried to convince the members. VVWA has now given two days to the authorities to move the refugees elsewhere.

A UNHCR official said the refugees had been "issued only asylum seeker cards but they have been demanding refugee status."

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