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'Financially Strained,' Mizoram CM Brings up Myanmar Refugee Crisis in Meeting With PM

Mizoram chief minister Zoramthanga has said that the influx of Myanmar nationals amid the second wave of the COVID-19 has strained the state’s financial condition.

Agartala: After rejecting the Centre’s directive to deport Myanmar nationals who took shelter in parts of Mizoram, chief minister Zoramthanga has sought Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s help to solve the humanitarian crisis of the refugees.

During a virtual meeting with the prime minister on July 16 on the COVID-19 situation, Zoramthanga said that the influx of Myanmar nationals amid the second wave has strained the state’s financial condition.

“…[T]he military junta overthrew the democratically elected government of Myanmar in February 2021. Thousands of Mizos who lived in Myanmar sought refuge and shelter in Mizoram and crossed over. Mizos across the border in Myanmar are our brethren with whom we share close cultural and family ties, with many having close family connections, hence it was not possible for Mizoram to refuse shelter to our own brethren who fled Myanmar fearing for their lives,” Zoramthanga said.

He said that soon after this, the second wave of the pandemic manifested and Mizoram not only had to fight with its limited resources but also had to look after refugees from Myanmar and provide them with food, shelter and medicines.

“This has strained the financial resources of the state,” he said in the meeting.

The influx

Since February more than 10,000 Myanmar nationals, including a former chief minister and around 20 MPs belonging to Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), and some police personnel, have taken shelter in at least 10 districts of Mizoram, following the crackdown against pro-democracy protests by the junta.

Soldiers cross a street as people gather to protest against the military coup, in Yangon, Myanmar, February 15, 2021. Photo: Reuters/Stringer

After the arrival of Myanmar nationals, the state government, along with the local communities provided protection, including shelter and food.

As the Myanmar military reportedly intensified the crackdown against pro-democracy protesters, including NLD supporters, Salai Lian Luai, chief minister of Chin state, crossed over to Mizoram’s Champhai district and sought refuge.

Mizoram shares a 510 km-long international border with Myanmar. Myanmar shares an over 1,600 km long unfenced and porous land border with India. Four north-eastern states – Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram – share the international boundary with Myanmar.

Also read: Mizoram CM Speaks to Leader From Suu Kyi’s Party, Recognises Her as ‘Myanmar Foreign Minister’

Centre’s alert

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) issued directives on March 10 to the chief secretary of Mizoram, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and the Director General of Assam Rifles stating that the state governments have no power to grant refugee status to any foreigners.

The directive says that in 2018, MHA had advised sensitising law enforcement and intelligence agencies to take appropriate steps for identifying “illegal migrants,” their restrictions to specific locations as per provisions of law, capturing their biographic and biometric particulars, cancellation of fake Indian documents and initiating legal proceedings including deportation proceedings as per provisions of the law.

“…[S]tate governments and UT administrations have no powers to grant “refugee” status to any foreigner and India is not a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention of 1951 and its 1967 protocol. In view of the above, you are requested to take appropriate action as per law to check illegal influx from Myanmar into India,” the letter said.

‘India cannot turn a blind eye’

On March 18, Zoramthanga wrote to PM Modi saying, “India cannot turn a blind eye to this humanitarian crisis”.

“It may be mentioned that the Myanmar areas bordering Mizoram are inhabited by Chin communities who are ethnically our Mizo brethren with whom we have been having close contacts throughout all these years even before India became independent. Therefore, Mizoram cannot just remain indifferent to their sufferings today. India cannot turn a blind eye to this humanitarian crisis unfolding right in front of us in our own backyard,” Zoramthanga said.

Also read: Cannot Immediately Send Back Those Who Fled Myanmar’s Crackdown: Mizoram MP

Referring to the MHA letter to deport the Myanmarese, the chief minister said that this is not acceptable to Mizoram.

“I understand that there are certain foreign policy issues where India needs to proceed cautiously. However, we cannot ignore this humanitarian crisis,” the letter read.

He also wrote in the letter that India as the largest democracy in the world and urged Modi to intervene so that the political refugees from Myanmar are given asylum and provided food and shelter here in the country.

A series of rallies and sit-in demonstrations were held across Mizoram by different NGOs and student bodies in solidarity with the people of Myanmar, especially the Chins, who are the ethnic brethren of the Mizos.

Many Mizo village councils authorities issued statements affirming their willingness to accommodate the Myanmarese. They also provided shelter and food to them. The state’s apex student body Mizo Zirlai Pawl (MZP), in collaboration with four other outfits, organised charity concerts in different parts of Aizawl to raise money for Myanmarese refugees.