Uncertainty over Bru refugees’ return to Mizoram even after Delhi meeting

Agartala/New Delhi, Oct 12 (IANS) Uncertainty of repatriation of over 31,000 tribal refugees, living in Tripura for the past 19 years, to Mizoram continued even after a high-level meeting at the Union Home Ministry in Delhi, officials said on Wednesday.

According to the officials present at the meeting of Joint Monitoring Group (JMG) for repatriation of the refugees, chaired by Union Special Secretary (Internal Security) Mahesh Kumar Singla, Mizoram government officials wanted to start the repatriation from January next year instead of pre-scheduled November as the Union government urged.

The Mizoram officials also remained non-committal to the refugee leaders’ desire to visit the proposed sites where the tribals would be rehabilitated after being repatriated.

“The JMG meeting discussed in depth the repatriation of the tribal refugees. Certain matters raised by the refugee leaders and Mizoram government officials would be cleared by the MHA (Ministry of Home Affairs) later on,” Tripura’s Officer on Special Duty (OSD) Kishore Jha told IANS over phone from New Delhi.

Jha, a senior IPS officer, who represented the Tripura at the meeting, said that the Home Ministry officials asked the Mizoram officials to start the repatriation from next month, and Tripura assured extending all logistical support.

Besides Singla, Joint Secretary, Northeast, Satyendra Garg, Deputy Secretary A. Radha Ranni, Mizoram’s Additional Secretary, Home, Lalbiakzama, OSD, Home David H. Lalthangliana, Young Mizo Association (YMA) president Lalbiakzuala and tribal leader Elvis Chorkhy attended the meeting.

The refugees were represented by Mizoram Bru Displaced People’s Forum’s (MBDPF) president A. Sawibunga and general secretary Bruno Msha.

Msha, who returned to Agartala on Wednesday itself told IANS that the Mizoram officials “expressed their reluctance over our visit to Mamit, Kolasib and Lunglei districts of Mizoram prior to the repatriation”.

“If we want to pursue the general refugees to return to their homeland and convince them about their future in Mizoram, our visit to the proposed rehabilitation sites is must,” he said.

“Earlier the Mizoram government was keen to take back the refugees from November, now they are saying that the repatriation would start from January. MHA officials, however, firmly asked the Mizoram official to start the repatriation from next month,” added MSHA.

He said the Home Ministry agreed to give each refugee family housing assistance of Rs 38,500, Rs 41,500 cash assistance, free rations for two years, blanket and utensils while Mizoram would reimburse their transportation cost.

The ministry also verbally agreed to extend Rs. 1.3 lakh housing scheme under Pradhan Mantri Awas Yajana to each family, said the MBDPF leader, but said he was doubtful about the repatriation in the near future.

Singla and Garg recently visited Tripura and Mizoram and held a series of meetings with the officials of both governments and tribal leaders over the repatriation. The measures came in wake of the Supreme Court’s directives about the repatriation, and the roadmap submitted by Mizoram on how it plans to rehabilitate the displaced people.

About 31,300 Reang tribals, who call themselves ‘Bru’, have been living in seven makeshift camps in North Tripura’s Kanchanpur area adjoining Mizoram since October 1997 after they fled their homes in western Mizoram after ethnic violence in wake of the killing of a Mizo forest officer at the Dampa Tiger Reserve.

Despite several initiatives by the Mizoram government to bring them back, the refugees have been reluctant to go back to their villages unless their demands for food and security are met.

Meanwhile Lalbiakzama said in Aizawl that the state government submitted to the Union Home Ministry a detailed plan for taking back the tribal refugees, and had sought Rs 68 crore for the process.

The Tripura government has been asking the Union and Mizoram governments to repatriate the refugees at the earliest as serious socio-economic and law and order problems have cropped up in the state.

(Sujit Chakraborty can be contacted at sujit.c@ians.in)

–IANS

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