10/18/2008, 00.00
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Christians of Orissa appeal to UN as "stateless citizens"

by Nirmala Carvalho
The government of Orissa is even closing the refugee camps, and thousands of people have nowhere to go. An appeal to the UN, that it grant Indian Christians the status of refugees, protect them, and send them the food and shelter that India is denying them.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) - The government of Orissa is closing the refugee camps and driving out thousands of Christians, without food or shelter. In the meantime, the violence continues, denounced as a genocide to the United Nations, which is being asked for immediate intervention.

Fr. Manoj Digal of the archdiocesan social service center tells AsiaNews, ”One of the three relief camps in Baliguda was shut down on Oct 15th, and 900 people sent away. It is ridiculous, these people have nowhere to go, they are defenseless, moreover they have been given just 10 kg of rice per family. How will they live? The government has not even given them tents, where will our people stay? They have lost everything, they are reduced to nothing, moreover, the looming fear of reconversion to Hinduism, if they return to their villages they can only stay as Hindus. The government has not ensured any security for these Christians. There is a grave risk and threat to their lives terror still haunting them, moreover, now radical women’s groups who are terrorising the Christian women. Our people are destitute.”

Sajan K, George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) has petitioned the United Nations over the decision by the government of Orissa to close the refugee camps in the district of Kandhamal. Sajan writes to the UN that "The New York Times on 3rd September 2008 reported that 1,400 homes and 80 churches had been destroyed or damaged. The actual figures in Orissa, are more than double. Hundreds have been killed for belonging to the faith and large-scale gross human rights abuse is taking place - rape, brutal injury, police atrocities, torching of churches & property belonging to Christians, their institutions and clergy. 
Even the official figures of lives lost or crores of rupees worth property vandalized in the ensuing carnage, has shocked civil society in India and abroad. Tens of thousands are rendered homeless, living in the forests or in government relief camps, where inhuman living conditions, devoid of basic food and medicine, cause many deaths. The Christian community seems to have lost all faith in the government to protect the life and property of its citizens, especially when it comes to the minority Christians, who constitute a meager 2.5% of the country's population."

"The states where this is happening, especially Orissa," he continues, "are ruled by the opposition right-wing BJP and allies, and this being an election year, the government is reluctant to act, as it is not seen to be politically expedient. It's been months since the Christmas eve massacre in Orissa and the community has ever since, been knocking at all doors - the president and prime minister of India downwards - but to no avail. As of today, the attacks continue with a renewed vigour of ethnic cleansing and genocide in Orissa and spreading to at least eight other states of India. The onslaught would have claimed more lives, if only the media and human rights activists had not played a significant restraining role, by highlighting the brutality of the Hindu extremists, backed by an inactive government, which if not abets the communal violence, certainly turns a Nelson's eye to it. There are all indications of a worse holocaust to follow the communal carnage, which we fear cannot be prevented by the government. Christian NGOs and the Church are not allowed to even fend for their own and care for the hurt and dying."

"These Orissa Christians and others to follow," he concludes, "express the desire to be termed Prima Facie Refugees and urge you, through the UNHCR to deem them so, in order that they can be covered by a legal framework to protect their human dignity from rights violations and abuse. Currently, they along with tens of thousands, are a stateless people, as the writ of the government of India does not run large in the state of Orissa." "Tens of thousands such as these will either be killed by the Hindu extremists or will die of injury and malnourishment, if no attention is paid immediately. Many of these are old, women, children, babies, clergy. who are the most vulnerable sections. We appeal to you on humanitarian grounds, not take a strictly legalistic view, as precious lives are being lost by every day, even as blood is split by the hour." "We also appeal to the UN and its world agencies, to exercise its power and influence, to protect lives and prevent further killings in India or discrimination on the basis of race, religion or caste.”

Meanwhile, the violence is spreading through the entire country. On October 14, two churches were attacked in Erode, in Tamil Nadu: unknown assailants threw stones, at night, breaking windows and furniture.

There are still seeds of hope amid the disaster. Sister M. Suma, regional superior of the Missionaries of Charity of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, fled from the order's house in Sukananda, district of Kandhamal, burned down on September 30 by Hindu extremists. She tells AsiaNews that she is being allowed to stay for a couple of days in the refugee camp in Raikia, where she says "I hope I can share with them the love of Mother Teresa. Keep the joy of loving God in your heart."

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See also
Orissa: no peace for Christians even in refugee camps
Sisters of Mother Teresa collect aid for children of Orissa
In Orissa, a peaceful Christmas, but "armored"
Orissa: Christian villages burned, 12,000 people missing from refugee camps
Burmese in Thailand, refugees of the "longest civil war in the world"


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