Mizoram faces refugee influx as conflict rages on

ByEzrela Dalidia Fanai
Jun 02, 2023 04:19 PM IST

Mizoram shares a 95-km long border with riot-hit Manipur.

Mizoram, which has become home around 8,000 refugees from neighbouring Manipur, mostly Kukis, over the past few weeks following violence in that state, and which is also home to refugees from Myanmar and Bangladesh is working to ensure it takes care of the newcomers without compromising its own interests and India’s security concerns.

Ethnic violence in Manipur has left at least 80 people dead and another 40,000 displaced. (ANI) PREMIUM
Ethnic violence in Manipur has left at least 80 people dead and another 40,000 displaced. (ANI)

Mizoram shares a 95-km long border with Manipur, a 722-km border with Myanmar, and a 318-km border with Bangladesh; it is also home to the Chin-Kuki-Mizo ethnic group, which has close cultural and linguistic ties with the people of the Chin Hills in Myanmar, the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) in Bangladesh, and the Kukis in Manipur; and it has now become a natural destination for people fleeing violence, persecution and instability.

According to state government records, there are over 40,000 Myanmar nationals, 700 Bangladesh nationals, and around 8000 people from Manipur who have taken shelter in Mizoram.

Also Read| Surrender arms or face action: Amit Shah's stern warning in Manipur; probe panel announced

The Mizoram government has ignored the Union home ministry’s strict orders against hosting any refugees, and been vocal in its support of Myanmarese refugees who started streaming in after the military coup of February 2021, and the Bangladesh nationals who came to the state after clashes between the Bangladesh Army and the Kuki-Chin National Army (KNA) began in October last year.

Officials from the State Home Department say the state has spent over 38 crore on the Myanmarese and Bangladeshi refugees. NGOs have pitched in too. For instance, the Central Young Mizo Association’s (CYMA) President R. Lalngheta said the NGO has spent 57 lakh in supporting Myanmar refugees and 31 lakh on Bangladeshi ones.

Also Read: After the violence: A Myanmar twist as Manipur searches for its own

The real issue, though, isn’t the money -- it is security.

India is yet to officially recognize Myanmar or Bangladesh refugees , and has asked the state government to prevent illegal immigration and deport those who do not have valid documents.

Assam Rifles, which is manning the Indo-Myanmar border, have plans to increase and tighten security along the border to prevent further influx of illegal migrants, drugs and other contraband items.

Though CYMA’s Lalngheta refutes claims of an increase of drugs smuggling and crimes in Mizoram with the influx of refuges, an official from Assam Rifles said: “We have to tighten security along the Myanmar border to prevent the entry of illegal migrants into Mizoram. These illegal influxes can severely hamper the law and order situation of the state, and have led to an increase in drugs and arms smuggling.”

Assam Rifles also claims that three illegal bridges have been constructed at three different locations at the India-Myanmar border -- a hanging bridge over Tiau River at Lungkawlh, Ngharchhip, and Thekte villages. An Assam Rifles official added on condition of anonymity added: “Many illegal immigrants who have entered from Myanmar and Bangladesh have managed to acquire fake identity cards. They have even managed to travel out of the state and one has recently been apprehended with a fake ID in Bengaluru.”

Mizoram’s concern for refugees has moved up a notch with happenings in Manipur.

Manipur has been convulsed by ethnic violence since May 3, with the bulk of the clashes between the Meitei community, which constitutes the majority of the state’s population and lives largely in Imphal, and the Kukis, who comprise 16% of the state and live largely in the hill districts. At least 80 people have died and another 40,000 displaced by ethnic violence between the tribal Kukis, who mostly reside in the hill districts, and the Meiteis, the dominant community in Imphal Valley.

After Mizoram’s lone Rajya Sabha MP, K. Vanlalvena wrote to Union Home Minister Amit Shah and appealed for the Central Government’s immediate intervention to put an immediate end by stopping the Manipur Government from trying to convert the tribal land into forest reserves, and to restore peace in the region, the NGO Co-ordination Committee of Mizoram met with the Union Home Minister on May 15 and submitted a memorandum requesting the ntervention of Central government to restore peace in Manipur and ensure a safe environment for the tribals of Manipur.

Samuel Zoramthanpuia, President of Mizo Students’ Union (MSU) said, “As the current violence in Manipur is between two communities, it is important that Zo ethnic tribes across the globe and the Government of Mizoram extend a strong support for the demands of the tribals in Manipur.”

Lalngheta also added that the YMA will extend unconditional support to their Zo ethnic kin.

The Chief Minister of Mizoram, Zoramthanga, during a speech at the Mizo National Front’s office on May 19 said that the unification Chin-Kuki-Mizo ethnic group in India, and bringing them under one administrative unit, Greater Mizoram, was one of the main objectives of the founders of his party.

His statement was met with harsh criticism from the World Meitei Council (WMC).

There has been some internal opposition to Mizoram’s refugee-friendly policy.

One of Mizoram’s political parties, the People’s Conference (PC) has said the government is not keeping track of the movement of refugees.

PC’s president Vanlalruata wants the state government to build refugee camps where their movements can properly be monitored. He also accused the state government of not keeping a record of those displaced from Manipur who are entering Mizoram.

Experts say Mizoram’s refugee crisis is a reflection of the complex and dynamic realities of Northeast India’s borderlands, where ethnic ties transcend national boundaries, and where conflicts persist despite peace agreements. It is also a reminder of the need for compassion and solidarity among people who share a common history and destiny.

“In this age of globalisation, no community is an island, it is a multicultural world we live in. Ethnic concentration in a particular region is an impossible task. We must accept this truth, whether we like it or not. A majoritarian community in a particular region could be a minority community in another state. Therefore, ethnic cleansing by majoritarian community against ethnic minority with the help of the state is unthinkable. ‘Only Us, not others’ is unacceptable. Manipur is a case in point. Thousand of Meiteis are also currently living peacefully outside Manipur where they is a small fraction of the entire population. Intimidation and threat against minority is inhuman. But, if what is happening in Manipur is a grand design of a majoritarian community to systematically drive out minority tribals, it must be resisted at all cost to defeat such unprincipled objective,” said Dr Lallianchhunga, associate professor in the Department of Political Science in Mizoram University.

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