Nearly 1,200 people, including women and children, from Myanmar have fled to India in the past one week and taken refuge in villages in Lawngtlai district of southern Mizoram. The local authorities are struggling to keep them confined to the four border villages so that they can be sent back at the earliest.
“More than 1,200 people have crossed over and taken shelter in four villages in Lawngtlai district in the past one week. We are providing them shelter on humanitarian grounds and are looking for an opportunity to arrange their return to their native country at the earliest,” Arun T, deputy commissioner of Lawngtlai, told The Indian Express on Wednesday.
The people have crossed the border following a crackdown by the Myanmar army on a local armed group in the past few days. “These people, most of whom are Buddhists, have fled to India for fear of getting caught in the crossfire between the Myanmarese Army and Arakan Army, a local insurgent group,” an Assam Rifles officer said.
The Arakan Army is a local insurgent group belonging to the Rakhine state of Myanmar and have been fighting for an independent Arakanese state, the official said. The Assam Rifles has been in regular touch with the Myanmar Army in order to ensure safe repatriation of the refugees, he informed.
While Lawngtlai district of Mizoram shares the international boundary with both Myanmar and Bangladesh, the villages where the refugees have taken shelter are located between Border Pillar No 1 (the trijuncture of India, Bangladesh and Myanmar) and Border Pillar No 11, from where the Kaladyne river becomes the natural boundary between India and Myanmar.
Arun T confirmed the refugees were not Rohingya Muslims but tribals. “They are not Rohingya Muslims, but tribals from villages across the international boundary. Some of them also have relatives on the Indian side,” he said.
The refugees are currently putting up in four villages — Hmangbuchhua, Zochhachua, Dumzotlang and Laitlang — with the deputy commissioner saying they were distributed in community halls, an old abandoned school building, in some public sheds and also in some households. “Some are putting up in houses of relatives as many people on either side of the border belong to the same community,” Arun T said.
Arun said though national security was their topmost priority, they have provided water, mosquito nets to the refugees. “We are also definitely looking at them from the humanitarian angle and have provided them with rice and other food items, apart from drinking water, mosquito nets, bleaching powder and a few make-shift toilets,” the Lawngtlai deputy commissioner said. A medical team with two civilian doctors and one from the Assam Rifles have been also deployed, he informed.
The four villages are about 400 km from Aizawl, the state capital. “It is a remote area, with the nearest village Zochhachua being about 800 metre from the nearest highway,” Arun said. Officials have to walk about 10 km to the last village close to the border.
The Assam Rifles – which guards the 510km porous India-Myanmar border – was the first to respond to the influx of refugees from Myanmar last week. They have also deployed troops to ensure that no unscrupulous elements sneaked into India. “More than 200 Assam Rifles personnel were deployed in this area on Saturday to prevent entry of inimical elements and insurgents alongwith the refugees by taking advantage of the free movement regime,” an Assam Rifles official said.
Brigadier MS Mokha, Deputy Inspector General of 23 Sector Assam Rifles, who visited the villages on Sunday, assured the refugees of humanitarian assistance by the state government and asked them not to travel further north. He also asked the refugees not to provide assistance to any armed cadres of Arakan Army and warned of action against anyone doing so.
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