Kolkata, India: As thousands of Myanmarese flee the nation to escape the brutality of the military coup, India’s Mizoram state is quietly lending a helping hand to the refugees, even though the central Indian government remains indifferent to the aspect.
On 1 February, Myanmar’s army deposed civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, claiming “fraud” in the previous election and since then the Buddhist-majority nation’s people and the coup have been waged in an often-bloody war.
So far, over 500 pro-democracy protestors have been killed in regular bloody face-offs with the coup and protest demonstrations across the impoverished nation.
Tens of thousands of Myanmar nationals, including pro-democracy police and army officers, have since then tried to escape the menace, often trying to enter the neighboring states like India and Thailand.
They fear the regime’s force to quash dissent, as their beloved democratic leader Aung Suu Kyi’s political fate remains on balance.
But despite the crisis unfolding in Myanmar, and an exodus of refugees on the Indo-Myanmar border, sources say the Indian federal government has so far not dispatched any financial or physical help.
But the Indian government’s indifference towards the issue did not stop Mizoram’s Mizo community from helping the Myanmarese refugees from the region, who’re mainly Chin community people with whom the Indian state shares a close bond.
Officials in Mizoram claim they can’t refuse the migrants since the state’s Mizo people have strong ties to Myanmar’s Chin community.
While both the Manipur state and central government have initially resisted accommodating the refugees, Mizoram’s local stance has always been welcoming, notwithstanding the government orders.
A long but porous border
India shares a 1,468 kilometers-long international border with Myanmar, although the same is very porous.
According to C Lalramzauva, adviser to the Mizoram state-chief Zoramthanga, some 20k Myanmar citizens have crossed the very porous Indo-Myanmar borders to date, and have landed in the Mizoram for refuge.
Thousands have also sought refuge in neighboring Thailand, only to be turned away by the Thai soldiers, as per reports. Thailand says while it respects the human right of refuge, it does not want an ‘exodus.’
As per the interim Indian government orders, local border authorities were asked to prevent the influx of refugees from entering and detain them send them back to Myanmar.
Manipur’s state orders from 26th march stated, gravely injured Myanmarese refugees could get medical attention, but local authorities were not allowed to accommodate them in shelters.
“People trying to enter/seek refuge should be politely turned away,” the order said.
However, following a sharp criticism, the order was revoked. Mizoram state said the earlier order was ‘misconstrued,’ and are taking measures to accommodate the needy.
As per India’s Home Ministry, the state governments are not entitled to grant refugee status to anyone arriving from Myanmar because India is not a signatory to the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol.
Caring beyond the law
But it turns out, ethno-communal relations go beyond the scope of national identity and government orders, to care for ‘brethren’ of the same ethnic group, albeit from another nation.
Currently, over 20,000 Myanmarese refugees are seeking refuge in India, who are being taken care of by several NGOs working in Mizoram state.
They are primarily cared for by the Young Mizo Association, but there are other women’s associations, senior citizen organizations, and even child associations that are also leading support, as per Lalramzauva.
The government does not provide direct assistance to the refugees, given it is a federal issue, and the Indian government has done little to ensure that they are provided for, Lalramzauva said.
But Chin communities, ethnically Mizo brethren, live in Myanmar areas bordering Mizoram, with whom Mizos have had close touch since before independence. As a result, Mizoram cannot remain unconcerned about their plight, Lalramzauva said.