25.04.17 | News, Three questions for

Three questions for...

Solomon Paul, Youth Director of the Church of South India
Food supply in Telangana, India

The MITHRA project of the CSI provides food for migrants. (Photo: CSI/Solomon Paul)

In an interview with EMS, Solomon Paul, Youth Director of the Church of South India (CSI), talks about the MITHRA project he is in charge of. It helps migrants and refugees in Southern India and tries to integrate them into the society.

What does MITHRA stands for? What are the project objectives?

MITHRA means Migrants Intervention Towards Holistic Response of Action. It is an initiative of the CSI to recognize the presence of migrants among us and to improve the quality of their life. Although, there are thousands of people always around migrants and refugees in India it seems that they live in a kind of no-man's-land. The mission of the church is to support them and be there for them.

Currently, we have three project areas. One is in Northern South India in the state Telangana. There we work with migrants from Sri Lanka and Myanmar who came to Telangana in the 1970s to work in the spinning mills. The other location is placed in the outskirts of Chennai where we have around 20 families of refugees and migrants from North East India and Myanmar. And the third location is placed in the urban sector of Chennai where we help migrants from North Indian states. In all those states life is difficult and the opportunities for livelihood are very limited.

Many of them come to South India because they do not find work at home and hope for better life perspectives. But they are only employed on a contract basis and have a lot of limitations in terms of the way they live, the workplace or the salaries they get. Through our interventions we try to add a little bit of meaning to their lives.

Solomon Paul (left) and his team support migrants in Southern India. (Photo: CSI/Solomon Paul)

What are the biggest challenges of the migrants and refugees in their daily life?

There are a lot of challenges in their lives. They have to work more than the local people would do. Most of them work about 12 hours a day but the money they get is not appropriate to the work they do. They live in very poor shelters. You can survive there but you cannot live there in decent conditions. About 50-60 people live in one block and have hardly one or two toilets. There are issues of hygiene, issues of abuse and addiction. The migrants work so hard that during the weekend they fall into addiction because it gives them some kind of solace and they can escape the real world.

It also happens that they are being attacked and robbed by locals when they return home from work. They take away their money, mobile phones or watches. And if they do not cooperate they are beaten up. When they are beaten up it is difficult for them to approach the police stations because they do not know the local language. So they bear all the injustice and exploitation that happens to them. They prefer walking in groups and try to avoid these situations as much as possible.

How can the project help the people in those living conditions?

In the state of Telangana the migrants and refugees are already there for a long time. As they were brought there by the government to work in the spinning mills. But when the spinning mills closed down there job opportunities were gone. Most of the elderly people find it very difficult to live there. You would not believe that nutritious food in itself is a challenge for them.

The MITHRA project provides them with free food twice a week. Furthermore, we pick those elderly people up who cannot walk all the way to the centre. We engage with them in prayers, give them assurance and provide them good food to eat. We also employ a doctor who looks after their medical needs. They are very happy about it and love to come to the centre.

In the urban centres of Chennai there are a lot of youngsters who need counselling. They ask us to pray for them or to help them out. I think it has improved their quality of life and they are assured that there is a friend. That is the whole point of MITHRA which means 'friend' in our local language. They feel that they are not alone.

The interview was conducted by Corinna Waltz.

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