Refugees of Spirit

Self-help is the best help, even for refugees. The Chakmas in Tripura show how, while they wait for peace to return back home.

Hill women weaving colourful pinons (sarongs), their golden-brown skin glinting in the sun; clusters of bamboo and thatch huts; naked children prancing about; men huddled together, smoking or playing cards…

Hill women weaving colourful pinons (sarongs), their golden-brown skin glinting in the sun; clusters of bamboo and thatch huts; naked children prancing about; men huddled together, smoking or playing cards… To eyes accustomed to the dirt and filth of urban India, these images are a soothing balm. It is easy to forget that these men, women and children are among the worst-off refugees in South Asia. The accompanying pictures show Takumbari relief camp, more than 100 km from Agartala, the capital of India's northeastern state of Tripura, where more than 2000 families of Jumma tribals, primarily Buddhist Chakmas, have been languishing in wretched conditions for over a decade. Takumbari is the largest of six camps set up in Tripura for Chakmas. About 15,000 refugees have returned home since 1994 following agreements between India, Bangladesh and refugee leaders. But around 44,000 remain here.

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