The Challenge of Resettling
7,000+ Reang Refugee Families
Together, we can change the refugee status of the Reang tribal families in the refugee camps of North Tripura. Stripped of all their belongings and privileges, they have been living in temporary sheds and tents for the past 17 years in fear for their lives and with little hope or purpose.
At the moment there are over 7,000 Reang families living as refugees in pathetic conditions. There has not been much change in the lives of these refugees settled in six crowded refugee camps in slum-like conditions in the State of Tripura. Most of the children born after the violent ethnic clashes of 1997 are now in their late teens. The birth and the death rates in the camps are very high. The refugees have no running water or electricity and they are forbidden to dig wells or to build stable dwellings. They have no right to cultivate the land and they continue to subsist on meager government handouts without any access to education or medical care.
This situation would change dramatically and quickly with our prayers and resolve. At the moment they live in fear of hostile enemies in their homeland [Mizo is the predominant tribe of the State of Mizoram and they are violently hostile to the Reangs] who burned the Reang villages, killed many of their people indiscriminately and chased the survivors out of the State of Mizoram. The Reangs received no protection from the government in their homeland. The local police also joined force with their enemies in driving the Reangs out of their villages in Mizoram, where they had lived for hundreds of years.
But there is a possibility that they could become legal residents of the neighboring State of Tripura, which is one of the 28 States of India, located in the northeast. Once the refugees become residents, their families could be blessed with all the benefits available to the tribal residents of the State of Tripura. What are those benefits? They would obtain:
(1) Ration cards for the families;
(2) Primary and secondary school education for their children;
(3) Access to medical care for the entire family;
(4) Voting rights;
(5) Enlistment in the Primitive Group Program; and
(6) Enrollment in the Family Registry.
A ration card will entitle each family to 25 Kg. (about 56 pounds) of good quality rice per month for a nominal price of US$ 0.40 (that is right, each family could get 25 Kg. (55 lbs.) rice for a total price of 40 cents). In the open market rice costs about 50 cents per kilo (2.2 lbs.). The central government has heavily subsidized the price of rice to eliminate starvation of the poor. But these refugees cannot receive this benefit because they do not have ration cards.
The Primitive Group Program is a program of the central government of India to help the qualifying tribes with education, employment and business opportunities. The refugees must be enrolled in the Family Registry to be eligible for this program. But people born in and living in refugee camps do not have proper birth records, so they cannot benefit from these programs.
Though our missionaries are ready to help these outcast and deprived refugees with paper work and procedures with government agencies to obtain the necessary documentation for various entitlements, there are many obstacles. For instance, in order to obtain legal status in Tripura, each family must have a house. So, too often, these benefits go unclaimed, and local officials have little motivation or incentive to help these people.
If the past 17 years are any guide, these poor people are not going to get any of these benefits they are entitled to, until some caring people who have the necessary knowledge and resources comes to their assistance. This is where our missionaries will step in, supported by our prayers and equipped with our resources. Without our help, these refugees might continue in their tragic struggle for survival indefinitely.
Over the past several years, our missionaries have done their best by sending many of the Reang children to orphanages, some of the youth to Bible schools and some of the young girls to nursing schools. But all these efforts are still inadequate for such a large community of refugees. Due to lack of regular support for teachers, we had to close down the three primary schools we had established for primary school children, which catered to a total of 850+ children.
Now an opportunity has presented itself to do some sustainable work among these refugees which could forever change the future of their entire generation. One of the village headmen in North Tripura has granted thirty (30) acres of good land to settle some of the Reang refugees. We could easily accommodate 60 refugee families in a cluster village on this land. Building materials such as wood and bamboo are abundantly available in this jungle area,and a house acceptable to the authorities could be built using local materials for about $250.
There is some urgency in this matter because once the rainy season begins in late June, the idea of settlement will have to be postponed for another year. If we act now, we will bring hope to at least sixty of these refugee families. After the settlement of these 60 families, we hope to acquire more land in other areas of Tripura and ultimately resolve this prolonged refugee crisis of the Reangs for the glory of God.
There is a tremendous need for primary and secondary schools in this region and more than 10,000 children could benefit from school ministry. Orphanage is another need and over 2,000 orphans under the age of ten could readily benefit from such a ministry. We are sharing the needs of this helpless community in the six camps for the prayers of God's people.
The first group of Reang Students at the Bengal Bible Training Institute with their principal and warden; there are hundreds of youth in the camps with great potential. In the very first year of our ministry we sent 71 youth to eight Bible schools around India. Without proper education and without any opportunity to work, these youth would have ended up with a different and much less fulfilled lives if they had continued in the camps. Good leadership is lacking in this tribe. These are the future leaders of the Reang tribe. We have an opportunity to train them and equip them to lead the rest of the tribe in the right direction.
First group of Reang nursing school students. Right now there are more than 20 qualified girls in the camps waiting for sponsorship for nursing training at the mission hospital in Assam. US$2,000 will fully pay for the 2-year training expenses of one student (boarding, lodging and tuition included).
Six of the ten girls from the first group graduated from the nursing school. Four of them seen in this picture continue to work at the mission hospital and two of the other girls left to join another hospital. Three of the ten girls completed their 3-month preliminary medical course and returned to serve their camp community.
After 4 years of ministry, 46 people were baptized in one day, and the church-growth continues. The harvest has begun.
The Reangs are animists in their belief but they are very receptive to the Gospel. We would greatly appreciate your prayers for our missionaries in the forefront of this ministry to the Reangs, for we are engaged in a spiritual warfare.
The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth laborers into his harvest. You may participate in this ministry to the Reangs through your prayers and contributions to:
Gospel Missions of India
P.O. Box 1043
Warren MI 48090
For online donations, please visit www.Gospelmi.org
The prevailing conditions of these refugees warrant our compassion, but compassion is not the primary driving force behind our outreach to the Reangs; it is the Great Commission of our Savior and LORD that motivates and strengthens us to continue to minister to this needy group of people and every one of them is precious to the LORD. We foresee a great harvest of souls and a thriving Reang church all over the hills of Tripura in the days ahead. Please join hands with us in your daily prayers for the Reangs.
Our Pioneering Missionary to the Reangs – Bro. Thomas K. Joseph & Family
For further information or clarification, please contact us:
Jacob Mathen, New York 914-610-0862
Jose Thomas, New Jersey 201-587-8917
Roji Varghese, Texas 469-628-1266