Updated: March 20, 2021 7:50:49 am
The coup in Myanmar has led to an unusual schism across the border in Mizoram.
The state government of Mizo National Front, which has extended issue-based support to the NDA, is in favour of allowing refugees from the neighbouring country, even laying down a policy to assist them. But the Centre has asked all bordering states and the force guarding the border to prevent the influx and deport those who have come in since the coup, mainly police personnel.
Top sources told The Indian Express that Assam Rifles, which guards the 510-km India-Myanmar Border (IMB) in Mizoram, informed the Centre in early March that the state is “supporting the movement” of refugees and has “promulgated an SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) to manage” them. The SOP has since been withdrawn.
Assam Rifles also told the Centre that it is not “in sync” with the state government on the issue and that their “rather contradictory” positions “can result in deterioration” of their “working relation”.
The force warned that because of the coup, “the situation is volatile and there are inputs of a likely refugee crisis”. It informed that by early March, a number of refugees had been “successfully pushed back” and the “balance have been provided shelter by the state administration” although there were inputs of “more such crossings across the IMB”.
According to sources, Assam Rifles recommended that the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) pass “necessary directions…so that the state government doesn’t facilitate any such movement of Myanmar nationals seeking refuge in Indian territory”.
On February 27, the Mizoram government had issued an SOP for the “facilitation of refugees and migrants from Myanmar in connection with the political developments” there. It directed deputy commissioners of border districts to identify Myanmar nationals crossing over and provide daily updates to the state’s Home department.
It said that “only those persons (and their family members), whose life is in immediate and imminent threat due to political/ organisational affiliations in connection with the political development shall be facilitated and treated as refugees”.
The SOP stated that the refugees will be provided medical assistance, including Covid tests, and other basic amenities such as accommodation in community halls and other facilities in villages.
However, on March 6, soon after the Assam Rifles communicated with the Centre on this issue, the state “revoked” the SoP with “immediate effect”.
On March 10, the Union Home Ministry wrote to the four states bordering Myanmar — Manipur, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram – and Assam Rifles on the “probability of a large scale illegal influx” due to the “current internal situation in Myanmar”.
The MHA asked the states and Assam Rifles to “stay alert and to take appropriate action to prevent a possible influx”. It also asked all law enforcement and intelligence agencies to be sensitised “for taking prompt steps in identifying the illegal migrants and initiate the deportation process expeditiously and without delay”.
The Centre “reiterated” that “State 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”.
Sources in Assam Rifles estimate that over 200 people have crossed over so far. Mizoram Home Minister Lalchamliana, and other senior officials in the Home Department, were not available for comment despite several messages and calls from The Indian Express.
On March 16, K Vanlalvena, Rajya Sabha MP from Mizo National Front told the House that “more than 300 refugees have entered Mizoram and about 150 refugees are Myanmar police personnel who favoured the protesters (against the coup)”.
He said the state government and NGOs “were jointly helping those refugees without the help of the Union Government”. He described the refugees as “our brothers” and said that “sending them back to Myanmar would mean killing them”.
The MP said that the people of Mizoram “will not accept the deportation of refugees until the restoration of peace and normalcy in Myanmar” and requested the Centre to change its policy “to some extent”.
There is a Free Movement Regime between India and Myanmar, allowing people living within 16 km on either side to travel across the border for a period of 14 days. But Assam Rifles sources said this facility was suspended after the pandemic broke out last year — and remains so.
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