With fresh influx of around 8,000 refugees in the last one week following the violent clashes between the Myanmar army and the local civilian defence forces in Chin state of the neighbouring country, the number of Myanmarese who crossed over to the bordering Indian state has risen to over 22,000, officials said on Sunday.
According to officials, over 8,000 displaced people including women and children braving the chilly winter had crossed the international unfenced border and took shelter in Mizoram during the past one week.
“The hapless men, women and children had crossed the Tiau river by small country boat and were tracking the forested routes reached in different districts of Mizoram,” a Mizoram government official told IANS, refusing to be quoted.
Though six of Mizoram’s 11 districts — Champhai, Siaha, Lawngtlai, Serchhip, Hnahthial and Saitual share an unfenced 510 km long international border with Myanmar’s Chin state – the displaced Myanmarese also took shelter in Mizoram’s other districts – Aizawl, Lunglei, Khawzawl. Among the Mizoram districts, over 8,000 immigrants took shelter in Champhai distirct alone.
The majority of those who have taken shelter 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 mountainous northeastern state has been witnessing the influx of refugees from Myanmar since the military junta seized power through a coup on February 1 last year. The refugees include some lawmakers and Myanmar leaders.
Chief Minister Zoramthanga had written several letters to Prime Minister Narendra Modi urging him to provide relief, required aids and asylum to the Myanmar nationals as the state government was facing a financial crisis to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic and related problems.
Several delegations from Mizoram led by state’s Lok Sabha member C. Lalrosanga and Rajya Sabha member K. Vanlalvena had also met Union ministers including Union Development of North Eastern Region (DoNER) Minister G. Kishan Reddy in Delhi and senior officials of Home and External Affairs Ministries over the Myanmar nationals and requested them to provide shelter officially and release financial assistance.
Mizoram Planning Board Vice Chairman H. Rammawi, who is closely dealing with the Myanmar refugee affairs, said that the Chief Minister, besides writing letters, has also talked to Prime Minister Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah over phone on a number of occasions, requesting them to extend humanitarian assistance to the Myanmar refugees.
Mizoram’s MPs and Officer on Special Duty to the Chief Minister, Rosangzuala are regularly in touch with Central ministers and officials to provide financial assistance and other support to the refugees.
Earlier, Reddy while talking to the Mizoram MPs indicated to treat the Myanmar refugees as “tourists” not refugees.
The decision of the Central government is significant as the Union Home Ministry had sent out an advisory earlier to four northeastern states — Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh — which share a 1,640-km unfenced border with Myanmar, saying 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.
An MP from Mizoram, who closely monitors the refugee issue, told IANS that Union DoNER Minister had promised to help the state in dealing with Myanmar migrants. Currently the Myanmar nationals have in makeshift relief camps set up by various NGOs, churches and the villagers.
A few reside with their relatives in the state and some others in rented houses.Mizoram officials and MPs said that intermittent clashes between the Myanmar Army and the civilian groups in that trouble torn country forced the people including women and children 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 sometime crossing the Tiau river in small country boats to take shelter in the border villages of Mizoram,” a Champhai district administration official said.
The river Tiau, which flows along the Champhai district in eastern Mizoram, divides India and Myanmar.
Mizoram’s most influential NGO — the Young Mizo Association, various churches including Presbyterian, Baptist and Roman Catholic are providing food, essentials, clothing and shelter to the refugees since March last year.
Various NGOs and local organisations have formed the Myanmar Refugee Relief Committee and the organisation has been collecting donations, relief material, food, clothes and medicines to help the immigrants.
The influx to Mizoram started after a state of emergency was declared in Myanmar, where power was seized by General Min Aung Hlaing after President U Win Myint and State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi were detained by the military on February 1 last year.