Mizoram, a tiny state in India’s north-eastern region, has refused to obey the Narendra Modi government’s order on refugees coming in from Myanmar following the February 1 military coup.
According to reports, nearly 500 people, including many police personnel, fled the Southeast Asian nation fearing persecution by the country’s military and took shelter in the neighboring Indian state. Most of these refugees are staying in bordering villages.
Myanmar’s armed forces have continued their brutal crackdown on civilians for taking part in the country-wide ‘civil disobedience against the military regime. At least 240 people have been killed so far by Tatmadaw, as Myanmar’s military is known, since February 1.
Overwhelmed by the influx of refugees, Mizoram chief minister Zoramthanga on Sunday (March 21) held a virtual meeting with the exiled Foreign Minister of Mynamar, Zin Mar Aung, to discuss the emerging situation.
“Had a fruitful meeting (online) this morning with Zin Mar Aung, hon’ble foreign minister, Myanmar. Our thoughts and prayers are with Myanmar in these trying times,” the chief minister said in a Twitter post.
Had a fruitful meeting (online) this morning with Zin Mar Aung, Hon'ble Foreign Minister, Myanmar.
Our thoughts and prayers are with #Myanmar in these trying times. https://t.co/QLzZhwTKxC pic.twitter.com/QIw6wVkCxA
— Zoramthanga (@ZoramthangaCM) March 21, 2021
Earlier this month, India’s federal government had asked all north-eastern states to stop the influx of refugees. Four of the seven NE states — Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland, and Arunachal Pradesh – together share a 1,600-km land border with Myanmar.
It is believed most of the refugees had crossed the Tiau River and reached Farkawn Village in Mizoram through a stretch where border guards, the Assam Rifles, were not present.
Alarmed by the influx of refugees, India’s Ministry of Home Affairs on March 12 wrote to chief secretaries of the NE states as well as the Director-General of Assam Rifles,
“As you are aware, there is a probability of large-scale illegal influx into Indian territory through 1MB due to the current internal situation in Myanmar. In this regard, MHA has already issued an advisory Dated 25.02.2021 to Chief Secretaries of Mizoram, Nagaland, Manipur, and Arunachal Pradesh and also to Border Guarding Force(BGF) along IMB(Assam Rifles) to stay alert and take appropriate action to prevent a possible influx into Indian territory.”
The communique issued by the Foreigners’ Division of MHA, further read,
“Now, it has been reported that an illegal influx from Myanmar has started. Attention is invited to MHA letter no. 24013/29/Misc12017-CSR Ill (i) Dtd. 08.08.2017 addressed to Chief Secretaries of all State Governments and Union Territory (UT) Administrations wherein instructions were issued to sensitize all law enforcement and intelligence agencies for taking prompt steps in identifying the illegal migrants and initiate the deportation processes expeditiously and, without delay.”
The operative part of this communique is – “State Governments and UT (Union Territory) Administrations have no powers to grant ‘refugee’ status to any foreigner and that India is not a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention of 1951 and its 1967 Protocol”.
Mizoram Govt’s Response
However, the Mizoram government refused to abide by these instructions. Chief Minister Zoramthanga had on March 18 shot off a letter to the Prime Minister, saying the federal government’s directives were “not acceptable”.
“I understand that there are certain foreign policy issues where India needs to proceed cautiously. However, we can’t ignore this humanitarian crisis,” Hindustan Times reported quoting his letter. The CM also stressed the fact the Chin community, largely concentrated in areas just across the state border, has ethnic ties with Mizo people.
“Mizoram cannot just remain indifferent to their sufferings. India cannot turn a blind eye to this humanitarian crisis unfolding right in front of us in our own backyard,” Zoramthanga said in his letter.
#WhatsHappeningInMyanmar #Myanmar Mizoram Chief minister Zoramthanga writes to Prime Minister Modi on those fleeing Myanmar military. ‘Not acceptable to Mizoram’ – for Indian Security forces to prevent influx of refugees and initiate deportation. Mizoram cannot stay indifferent’ pic.twitter.com/VpN9SGkdye
— Neville Lazarus (@nevilleskynews) March 20, 2021
He emphasized that as the largest democracy, India needs to do more to solve the situation.
“I therefore strongly urge you to intervene so that the political refugees from Myanmar are given asylum and provided food and shelter here in the country,” the chief minister said.
In addition, K. Vanlalvana, who represents the state in the lower house of India’s Parliament, said that “sending them (refugees) back would mean killing them” and demanded that India help restore democracy in the neighboring nation.
Interestingly, Mizoram’s ruling party – the Mizo National Front – is an ally of Prime Minister Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). And the latest confrontation on a policy matter could strain their relations.
#AungBan. You showed remarkable resilience during this difficult time. https://t.co/ZvlIGJ8Nrh
— Nimrod from Burma (@NimrodAndrew) March 21, 2021
Refugee Influx Not A New Issue
India had faced a similar surge of refugees from Myanmar in 1988 after a violent crackdown on pro-democracy supporters. Thousands of people fled to neighboring countries fearing persecution by the then junta. An estimated 360,000 Myanmar nationals were living in Thailand, China, Malaysia, Bangladesh, and India in 1991-92, according to a 1992 study carried out by the International Commission of Jurists, a Geneva-based human rights organization.
A large number of the people who took shelter in India were from Chin state. They are largely concentrated in Mizoram with some living in Delhi, India’s capital. According to the latest estimate, there are over 50,000 Chin people, who had migrated to Mizoram in the prospects of a better life and livelihood over the years.