On 16 April, after visiting three different hospitals in Delhi, a 30-year-old Chin refugee died of COVID-19. According to his mother, who wished to remain anonymous, the 30-year-old told her about the last hospital, “Since my features are different, they don’t pay attention to me. I am very hurt. I want to jump from the top floor but I cannot.” His mother, amid sobs, told me that his last days had been torturous. “He told me they used to shout at him. They asked for 50,000 rupees, the next day they asked for 70,000. And on the third day, they asked for 80,000. He used to call us and he said that he had not even seen a doctor. ‘I am very hungry; I am always hungry’ he said. When we went, they didn’t allow us to see him.” Along with the 30-year-old, four others of Delhi’s small Chin refugee community have died of COVID-19 during the second wave, often without any medical care in government hospitals because they lacked the documentation or money required for private hospitalisation.
The COVID-19 pandemic has ravaged India’s various refugee communities, particularly Delhi’s Chin community, a predominantly Christian group of people from the Chin state of Myanmar that borders Mizoram and Manipur. The only perceivable end to the disease for the community is when they are fully vaccinated. However, India’s vaccine-distribution system, the government-developed CoWIN app, requires an identity card such as an Aadhar card, passport, PAN card or voter ID, all of which Chin refugees are ineligible for. The only identifying document many refugees possess is the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees card—commonly referred to as the UN card—and the UNHCR and the government have seemed to have done little to ensure that refugees are vaccinated.
The only government document that addresses vaccination for undocumented communities is a Statement of Purpose published by the ministry of health and family welfare on 6 May. The SoP aimed to create a procedure through which marginalised groups who do not have access to government recognised identification cards could access vaccines. Representatives of the UNHCR told me that this SoP addressed the problem of vaccine registration for refugees despite it not mentioning refugees a single time.