Mizoram feeding 15K Myanmarese refugees, sending their kids to school

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The tiny northeastern state of Mizoram has been feeding around 15,000 refugees from coup-hit Myanmar, with about 2,000 Myanmarese kids enrolled in Mizoram government schools under Indias Right to Education Act.

Mizoram’s Education Department Director James Lalrinchhana said that a responsible government cannot ignore the right to education and future of the children, who sheltered in Mizoram along with their parents or guardians.

“Besides enrolment of around 2,000 Myanmar students including about 965 girls from pre-primary to higher secondary (class XII) standard depending on their age, the government is providing books and other basic necessities as much as practicable and possible,” Lalrinchhana told IANS.

However, though most hostels for the students remained closed due to the Covid pandemic, no hostel facilities would be provided to these Myanmar students.

Referring to the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 (RTE Act-2009), the Director in August had told all the district and sub-divisional education officers that children belonging to disadvantaged communities have the right to be admitted to schools in a class appropriate to his or her age for completing elementary education.

The majority of those who have taken shelter in the state belong to the Chin community, also known as the Zo community, who share the same ancestry, ethnicity and culture as the Mizos of Mizoram.

“The Myanmar students are familiar with the Mizo language in which the text books are written. Hence Mizoram government school teachers can also teach the Myanmar students,” another official of the Education Department said.

After a one year state of emergency was declared in Myanmar and the military took over control of the neighbouring country on February 1, since March distressed men, women and children started taking shelter in Mizoram, which shares an unfenced border with Myanmar.

Currently around 15,000 Myanmar nationals have taken shelter in 11 districts of mountainous Mizoram.

According to the the CID of Mizoram police, which maintains the record of the Myanmar refugees, the Myanmarese mostly take shelter in six Mizoram districts — Champhai, Lawngtlai, Siaha, Serchhip, Hnahthial and Saitual — with Champhai housing the highest number of over 6,000 while there are immigrants in the remaining five districts too.

As many as 1,650 people are in Aizawl district.

The lone Rajya Sabha member from Mizoram K. Vanlalvena, who closely monitors the refugee issue, told IANS that Union Development of North Eastern Region (DoNER) Minister G. Kishan Reddy has promised to help the state in dealing with the Myanmar refugees.

According to district administration and police officials, the refugees from Myanmar, specially from Chin state, are crossing over to Mizoram’s southern and eastern border districts.

They said that intermittent clashes between the Army and the civilian groups in trouble torn Myanmar force the people to cross over through the forested and riverine routes and seek refuge in the Indian state.

“The distraught refugees from Myanmar with the help of local Mizos have been crossing the Tiau river in small country boats to take shelter in the border villages of Mizoram,” a district administration official said.

The river Tiau, which flows along the Champhai district in eastern Mizoram, divides India and Myanmar.

The official, refusing to be named, said that there are a large number of people waiting across the border to take shelter in Mizoram, while more are likely to come after their harvest season.

Besides Mizoram’s most influential NGO Young Mizo Association, various churches including Presbyterian, Baptist and Roman Catholic are, on humanitarian grounds, providing food, essentials, clothing and shelter to the refugees since March.

On a number of occasions, Chief Minister Zoramthanga in separate letters has requested Prime Minister Narendra Modi to provide humanitarian assistance to Myanmar nationals as his state is witnessing a continuing influx of refugees from the neighbouring country.

Mizoram’s lone Lok Sabha Member C. Lalrosanga, Rajya Sabha member K. Vanlalvena, and Officer on Special Duty (OSD) to the Chief Minister Rosangzuala are regularly in touch with Central ministers and officials to provide financial assistance and other support to the refugees.

An MHA advisory, earlier sent out to the four northeastern states, Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh, which share a border with Myanmar, said that the states and Union Territories have no power to grant “refugee” status to any foreigner, and India is not a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention of 1951 and its 1967 Protocol.

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

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