New Delhi: Adhering to the instructions of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), both Manipur and Mizoram bordering Myanmar have begun the process of collecting the biometric details of the refugees who have been taking shelter in these northeastern states after fleeing their strife-torn country.
As per an MHA order on June 22, these states are to complete the process by September 30.
Though the states were asked to lay out a plan and share it with the MHA, eventually officials from the National Crime Records Bureau had to visit the two states to train local officials on how to capture the data.
According to an August 5 Mizoram Post report, the Zoramthanga government has informed the MHA that it would not be able to complete the task by the September deadline. The news report quoted state home minister H. Lalengmawia saying that the process was delayed “due to alteration of the format prepared by the MHA to suit the Myanmar refugees and may not be able to complete the data collection by the Centre’s deadline”.
According to official records, Mizoram has 35,126 Myanmar refugees, of whom 15,589 are taking shelter in relief camps while 19,458 have been either living in rented accommodation or with relatives. The Wire has earlier reported that most of those staying in rented accommodation in Aizawl are political refugees and have been guarded by the Assam Rifles.
In Manipur, the process has begun early this week at the detention centre set up for the refugees by the state government near Sajjwa jail in Imphal. News reports have put the Myanmar refugees currently residing in the detention centre at 104 which includes 24 men, 74 women and six children. They are said to have arrived in India after the military coup toppled the Aung San Suu Kyi government two years ago, kicking up an armed civil disobedience movement to restore democracy.
A press statement by the state government on July 29 had said that the process of identifying “illegal migrants” would be carried out in all districts. Joint secretary at the state home department, Peter Salam, had told Indian Express that the district heads have been asked to identify “all illegal migrants” under their respective jurisdictions. He said over 2,500 “illegal immigrants” had been identified thus far, of whom Naga-dominated Chandel district had the highest at around 1,050.
Earlier this week, reacting to the government’s number in Chandel, the influential civil society group (CSO) United Naga Council (UNC) had said there is an “urgent need” to update the National Register of Citizens in the state. Accusing the MHA of facilitating the “influx”, the UNC in a press statement had said, “It is alarming to learn the fresh influx of illegal immigrant, Myanmarese nationals along the Indo-Myanmar border in Chandel district to the tune of 718 persons in just a day, as per the report of Assam Rifles 29 sector, dated July 23, 2023.”
Aside from the UNC, several powerful Meitei CSOs have demanded a stop to the inflow of refugees from across the international border. During the ongoing conflict of the Meitei community with the Kuki community which share ethnic affinities with the Chin people of Myanmar, not just the Meitei CSOs but the state chief minister N. Biren Singh also accused them of harbouring “illegal immigrants” from that country.
Of the 1,600-km-long international border with Myanmar, Manipur shares 390 km while 500 km are along Mizoram. The border is porous as India has a free movement regime with Myanmar, which permits people residing on either side to travel 17 km on both sides without visa restrictions.
Though Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh also share border with Myanmar, the arrival of refugees has been noted officially only in Manipur and Mizoram.