More than 200 Rakhine refugees in Mizoram to be pushed back
Over 200 Buddhist refugees from Myanmar who have been in Mizoram since November 2017, are set to be ‘pushed back’, officials said on Tuesday.
The urgency to send them back arose after a directive was issued from the Ministry of Home Affairs to the state government earlier this month, according to Lalbiakzama, the additional secretary in the state’s home department.
“They will be sent back this week or the next. The directive is to complete the process by the end of this month,” said Shashanka Ala, the deputy commissioner of Lawngtlai district in South Mizoram which shares border with both Myanmar and Bangladesh.
While the focus has been on Rohingya refugees, in November 2017, as fighting raged between the Arakan Army and the Myanmar military, around 1500 Rakhine Buddhist refugees crossed over to Mizoram. Arakan Army, an insurgent outfit is fighting for a confederate status for Rakhine state.
The refugees who mostly came in boats, took shelter in four border villages in Mizoram’s Lawngtlai district — Laitlang, Hmawngbuchhua, Zochachhua, and Dumzautlang.
However, as most refugees were pushed back, 219 of them still continued to live in Hmawngbuchhua, a village which is also mostly inhabited by Rakhine people and falls under the Lai Autonomous District Council.
J Sangahangpuia, president of Central Young Lai Association, an NGO representing the dominant Lai tribe of the region said it is up to the administration to take a decision. “But these people have nothing here. Their land, their belongings are there across the border. It is good if they go back,” he said.
The local Lais also suspected the refugees to have links with the Arakan Army.
For a living, most of these refugees were either helping the locals on Jhum or shifting cultivation for a living or working as construction workers on the 87km road connecting Lawngtlai town and Zorinpui, a proposed border crossing point with Myanmar part of the ambitious Kaladan multi-modal transport project.
In June 2018, when Hindustan Times visited Hmawngbuchhua, some of the persons who had taken shelter in the village said they did not want to go back for they feared the Myanmar Army would kill them.
Clashes between the Arakan Army and the Myanmar Army have continued since 2017.
Earlier this year, the Assam Rifles had increased its deployment to stop people from crossing over from Myanmar, an official said.
However, there has been a relative calm in the border areas for the last around three weeks, according to an Assam Rifles official.
“The administration does not want any violence or any harm to come to these refugees when they are sent back,” the Assam Rifles official said adding the attempts are on to talk to officials on the other side of the border to ensure their safe passage. “They have said they will get back to us,” this official said.