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India's Burmese community: Hope and apprehension in the balance

The Burmese community in India is hopeful that the release of Aung San Suu Kyi will strengthen the pro-democracy movement in Myanmar. However, her supporters are aware that their struggle is far from over.

The Burmese community in Delhi has organized a sports festival to celebrate Aung San Suu Kyi's release

The Burmese community in Delhi has organized a sports festival to celebrate Aung San Suu Kyi's release

It is celebration time for the Burmese community in New Delhi that has organized a sports carnival to mark the recent release of Myanmar's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi after years of house arrest.

The Burmese refugees - many of whom made India their home after having to flee Myanmar - have organized volleyball and football competitions to mark the long-awaited occasion. They have invited the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to be their chief guest.

Many have said the elections in Myanmar were rigged

Many have said the elections in Myanmar were rigged

Mixed sentiments

Van Hmun Lian, one of the sports festival organizers, has mixed sentiments: "We are very happy and we are celebrating Aung San Suu Kyi’s release but I don’t think we will be able to go back to our country very soon. Her release is diverting people’s attention from the rigged and fraudulent general election. The new government was formed by the military government in civil uniform, and there is no change."

Dr Runbik, a supporter of the National League for Democracy (NLD) has a similar attitude: "Yes, there is hope and there is excitement. Of course, we don’t know about the future. If she is not arrested again and if she is well, we have some hope."

Tint Swe, an NLD MP who has lived in India for over two decades, thinks Suu Kyi's release and the recent elections could open up the path to democracy.

Aung San Suu Kyi is a beacon of hope

Aung San Suu Kyi is a beacon of hope

"We are coming to the second phase of the struggle," he explains. "We have new challenges and I am also hoping for new opportunities. We will have Suu Kyi taking the lead and I am sure she will take new initiatives. There is new hope."

Figures for number of Burmese refugees are unclear

The Indian government used to be a vocal supporter of Aung San Suu Kyi’s democracy movement, but it changed its foreign policy with the introduction of its Look East policy in the 1990s and turned towards more intensified engagement with the military junta.

However, India remains an important country of refuge for Burmese dissidents and members of the opposition.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, there are about 3,500 refugees from Myanmar in India, with another 4,500 asylum seekers. However, unofficially, about 100,000 Burmese refugees are thought to be in India, mostly in the north-eastern states.

Speculation and rumors

Aung San Suu Kyi’s release has already stirred up much speculation about the country's future.

Delhi has become a home for hundreds of Burmese refugees

Delhi has become a home for hundreds of Burmese refugees

There are some reports that her expressed willingness to consider calling for the lifting of sanctions could force Western governments to revisit these measures.

However, her pledge to look into election fraud and her call for all political prisoners in Myanmar to be released, are not likely to please the junta. There are even rumors that she could end up being rearrested.

Author: Murali Krishnan
Editor: Anne Thomas

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