Lawngtlai (Mizoram), Dec 4 : In a contradiction of its own policy, the Indian government has allowed over 1,300 tribal Buddhist refugees from Myanmar’s Rakhine region to enter Mizoram. The refugees left their homeland because of the ongoing war between the Myanmarese Army and the Arakan Army, made up of Buddhist insurgents.
This comes nearly a month after the Union Home Ministry had directed the northeastern states to take strict measures to prevent Rohingyas — who are Muslims — from entering Indian territory despite persecution by the Myanmar regime.
The new group of refugees, belonging to the Chin and few other communities of Myanmar, have come to four villages in Lawngtlai district.
According to sources in the Mizoram government, the administration is struggling hard to bring down the rising tensions among the refugees and the residents of Laitlang, Dumzautlang, Hmawngbuchhuah and Zochachhuah villages.
According to the state administration, the refugees are being taken care of on humanitarian grounds as all of them came to escape clashes back home.
“It’s been some six days since these refugees have arrived on Mizoram territory. They currently are in four villages of the Lawngtlai district and are put up at shelter homes, Buddhist homes, temples and many other places,” T. Arun, Deputy Commissioner of Lawngtlai, told IANS over the phone.
He emphasised that the security threat in such a situation cannot be denied.
“We basically have two rules — one relating to national security and other related to humanitarian assistance. Under the humanitarian rules we are providing food as we do not want any starvation deaths. We also have to guard against the outbreak of diseases,” said Arun.
Additional police, health workers and doctors have also been deployed not just to keep a vigil on the new arrivals but also to keep a check on their health condition.
“The problem is that the population of each of the villages is just 200-400. The arrival of such a large number of people is a matter of serious concern,” said Arun.
Mizoram’s police chief emphasised that though they won’t immediately term the arrival of the refugees a security threat, they are waiting for the situation in Myanmar to normalise so that they could be sent back.
“We won’t call it a security threat at this juncture. They were alllowed into Indian territory due to the ongoing fighting in Myanmar. We are taking care of it and police forces are there. However, we are making sure there won’t be any problem for the villagers due to the refugees. They have been confined to the four villages,” Director General of Police Thianghlima Pachuau told IANS over the phone.
The current crisis in Myanmar comes nearly two months after the Myanmar Army had launched operations against the Rohingyas in Rakhine province. While the conflict led to more than 600,000 Rohingyas fleeing to Bangladesh, the United Nations Human Rights Commission called the strike by the Myanmar Army “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.
The Indian government has taken measures, including asking the states in the region to seal their borders with Mayanmar, to prevent Rohingya refugees from entering the country.
Myanmar, the only Southeast Asian country which shares a 1,600-mile-long border with India, serves as its gateway to the other member-states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Four northeastern states — Arunachal Pradesh (520 km), Manipur (398 km), Nagaland (215 km) and Mizoram (510 km) — have an unfenced border with Myanmar.
Experts on Indo-Myanmar relations see the current influx as a temporary matter that is different from the Rohingyas issue.
“This is an issue that has emerged in the last few months. The arrival of Buddhist refugees is certainly a matter of concern as it affects people on the Indian side as well. However, this is different from Rohingyas,” Khriezo Yhome, senior Research fellow at Observer Research Foundation and an expert on Indo-Myanmar affairs, told IANS.
According to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees there are around 21,500 Rohingya refugees and asylum seekers in India. The central government, though, has sent a clear message that it would not be willing to accept them “because of security concerns”.
The Supreme Court on October 13 asked the Centre to strike a balance between national security, economic interests and humanitarian considerations with regard to Rohingya women, children, old, sick and infirm.
By : Rupesh Dutta
(Rupesh Dutta can be contacted at [email protected])