New Delhi: The Mizoram government has officially informed the centre that over 15,000 Myanmar refugees are now residing in the northeastern state.
In his letter to Smita Pant, Joint Secretary in charge of Myanmar and Bangladesh in the Ministry of External Affairs, State Planning Board Vice Chairman H. Rammawi said that the number of refugees who have taken shelter in Mizoram was 15,438. Giving the breakup, he informed that the number of incoming guests from Myanmar was “increasing day by day”.
He informed the centre that the state capital Aizawl alone has about 6000 of them while the remote Hnahthial district has 2413.
These figures have major variability from the version of state police as reported in a section of media.
A few days back, police CID data claimed over 5,600 Myanmar nationals, including 18 lawmakers, have so far sneaked into Mizoram since the military junta took control of the regime there on February 1.
It has been claimed that more than 100 refugees have returned to their country so far, according to police.
The exodus of the refugees, mainly belonging to the Mizo ethnic group in Chin State and Sagaing division, had begun in February following the brutal crackdown on anti-coup protesters who launched Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) against the coup by the military on February 1.
Even Myanmar government employees and policemen and fire service personnel had fled to Mizoram after they were reportedly ‘ordered’ by the military junta to open fire at anti-coup protesters.
According to the Mizoram government’s missive, the Mizoram-Myanmar border Champhai district is at present hosting 3,877 refugees as of May 10-11.
Some social workers and student leaders in Aizawl said that Rammawi’s figures might be still on the conservative side, as many Myanmar nationals were staying in the homes of their “relatives in Mizoram”.
Reports said, local residents and NGOs were taking care of the refugees but the pandemic triggered cash-starving state government has sought financial assistance from the centre.
The CPI-M politburo in a statement recently said, “The Indian people have great sympathy and support for the neighbouring people of Myanmar who are valiantly protesting against the military takeover. The Indian government should reflect this sympathy and not treat the people who have crossed over fearing for their lives as “illegal migrants”.
They should be given refugee status and provided humanitarian assistance”. A large number of Chins and other Myanmar citizens after backlash from military rulers had come to Mizoram in the 1980s. Mizoram government officials say once the democratically elected government headed by Aung San Suu Kyi took charge, most of the refugees had gone back. However, the possible ‘onslaught’ of refugees from India’s eastern neighbour has revived again after the recent military coup.
Myanmar’s military junta carried out the coup ousting the Suu Kyi regime alleging there was electoral fraud during the elections held in November 2020 amid the Covid19 pandemic. Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga, whose party Mizo National Front (MNF) is a BJP ally, said that the people of the state would welcome ‘any ethnic Mizo’ or other Myanmar citizens facing persecution for participating in the pro-democratic protest in Myanmar.
A one-year state of emergency has been declared in Myanmar and all powers have been reposed with Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.
The Union Home Ministry had earlier given directions to the chief secretaries of four northeastern states — Mizoram, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur not to ‘entertain’ Myanmar refugees. The centre has also instructed Assam Rifles to seal the border and prevent entry from the neighbouring country.
The Home ministry letter reiterated that the state governments and UT administrations 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.
The four northeastern states share a 1,643 km unfenced border with Myanmar.
In April, India condemned “any use of violence” in Myanmar.
“We believe that the rule of law should prevail. We stand for the restoration of democracy in Myanmar,” Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) spokesman Arindam Bagchi has said.
India has also urged the release of political prisoners and supported any attempts at resolving the current situation, including through the efforts of ASEAN.
“We remain engaged on this issue with our international interlocutors and at the UN Security Council in an effort to play a balanced and constructive role,” he said.