Guwahati: Persecuted in their own country and fearing for their lives, over 8,000 refugees from Myanmar are reported to have crossed into Mizoram through this week, following incidents of “firing and bombing” in at least three Myanmarese villages across the border from the state’s Champhai district.
A headcount by the district administration Thursday put the exact number of refugees who have crossed over this week at 8,149. State government sources said that the firing incidents were likely to have taken place at the Haimual, Rih and Khawmawi villages, located in Myanmar’s Chin state.
1 February marked one year since a military coup in Myanmar deposed the elected National League for Democracy government under Aung San Suu Kyi.
Since then, dogged resistance against the military has flared up, especially in the country’s west and south, and met with increasing brutality by the military regime. Chin state has been at the forefront of the armed resistance against the Myanmar junta. The Myanmar military has reportedly been burning villages in Chin and Kayah states since December to quell the rebellion.
On 29 January, the sound of firing was heard from Zokhawthar village in Champhai district, a border village separated from Khawmawi, in Myanmar, by river Tiau.
The state of Mizoram has a 400-km border with Myanmar.
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Refugees in their thousands
“According to reports from the local leaders in Zokhawthar, over 2,000 refugees had recently crossed into the village. At the refugee relief camp though, we could only count 600. But the movement is very fluid, they come, they go, some are still crossing over, some have gone back,” a state government official who visited Zokhawthar told ThePrint.
Meanwhile, another official with the state government said, “We have noted the influx from the Zokhawthar side, sometime back this was from the Saiah district side, we can’t send them back because it’s a humanitarian crisis.”
Officials said that Myanmarese refugees have also crossed over into the nearby Melbuk, Hruaikawn and Bulfekzawl villages in Champhai district.
While the numbers of refugees who continue to cross over into Mizoram and go back to their villages in Myanmar are much higher, in the past year, according to state government sources, around 10,000 refugees have entered Mizoram and stayed on.
According to a report, between 5 January and 20 January, over 2,000 people had crossed over into Mizoram’s southernmost districts of Hnahthial and Saiha, which border Myanmar.
Strain on villagers’ resources
The influx of refugees from across the border has put a severe strain on villagers, who have been sheltering them.
“It is very difficult for them, because the government can’t officially manage the refugees themselves because of the central government’s stand. Some of them (the refugees) don’t even have blankets and jackets,” said M.C. Lalramenga, president of the Young Mizo Association of Tuipuiral, in Champhai district.
The government of India’s stand on the refugees issue, given that India is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol thereon, is in variance to the Mizoram government’s decision to provide shelter to the Chins, who are ethnically related to the Mizos.
The first state government official quoted by ThePrint said that local leaders had formed “village-level communities” to coordinate efforts for those coming in.
“The village level communities are taking good care of the refugees who have crossed over, finding vacant buildings and schools. Around 90 per cent of them are being housed in schools, halls and vacant houses, while some have joined their relatives,” the official said.
“The local leaders do not have the resources to house them. We are also trying our best to provide them with silpaulin sheets and some funds for their food,” he added.
A makeshift camp has also been constructed along the Tiau river nearby, which forms part of the boundary between India and Myanmar.
(Edited by Saikat Niyogi)
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