New Delhi Must Intervene Immediately To Regulate Entry Of Myanmarese Into Mizoram Before They Pose Internal Security Threats

New Delhi Must Intervene Immediately To Regulate Entry Of Myanmarese Into Mizoram Before They Pose Internal Security ThreatsMizoram chief minister Zoramthanga (Twitter)
Snapshot
  • The Union government must now give up its hands-off approach to the influx of Myanmarese into Mizoram.

    It should act now to counter a possible internal security threat to India.

India has, so far, adopted a hands-off approach as far as influx of Myanmarese, almost all from the Chin province of that country, into Mizoram is concerned.

The Union government did issue advisories to Mizoram, Manipur and Nagaland that border Myanmar to prevent entry of nationals from that country fleeing the crackdown by the military junta there. But Mizoram made it clear that it would not prevent the influx “on humanitarian grounds” (read this).

The Union Home Ministry asked the three states not to provide any asylum to Myanmarese nationals and directed them to arrest illegal infiltrators from Myanmar and deport them. The states were reminded that they do not have the powers to offer asylum to foreigners and that India is not a signatory to 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1957 Protocol.

The Assam Rifles, which guards the India-Myanmar border, was also asked to step up vigil along the border and prevent entry of Myanmarese into India. But the border is unfenced and most areas are thickly forested, thus making it impossible to prevent the frequent breaches that occur.

Mizoram had also refused to abide by the directives of the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on the grounds that the Mizos and the Chin are of the same ethnic stock and the state is “obliged on moral and humanitarian grounds” to offer refuge to nationals of Myanmar who are fleeing the military junta.

Mizoram Chief Minister Pu Zoramthanga wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi asserting that Mizoram would continue to provide refuge to the fleeing Myanmarese. Mizoram shares a 510-kilometre-long border with Myanmar, and more than 10,000 Myanmarese are said to have taken shelter in Mizoram.

The MHA’s directives against providing refuge to Myanmar nationals was met with widespread protests on the streets of capital Aizawl and other places in the state.

Given the close racial and religious (almost all Mizos and Chins are Christians) links between the people of Mizoram and the Chin province of Myanmar, and the widespread opposition to the MHA’s directives, the Union government adopted a hands-off approach to the issue and left it to the Mizoram government to deal with the fleeing Myanmarese.

Many non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and civil society organisations provided shelters, food, clothes and other aid to the refugees while the Mizoram government, from the current month, has started granting admission to children of refugees in government schools.

But the arrest of 26 Myanmarese from Assam state capital Guwahati on Sunday (September 12) has underlined the urgent need for the MHA to intervene. There is no way that the entry of Myanmarese fleeing the offensive launched by the Myanmarese army (commonly known as the ‘Tatmadaw’) can be stopped, given the porous nature of the international border.

But the Union government must insist that all the Myanmarese who enter Mizoram must be compulsorily registered before they are allowed to avail of aid and assistance provided by the Mizoram government and NGOs.

And the Union government has to make it very clear to Mizoram that it is the sole responsibility of the state government to ensure that the Myanmarese nationals stay within the territorial limits of Mizoram, preferably in designated areas, and not migrate to other states.

The 26 Myanmarese who were arrested in Guwahati on Sunday had forged Indian documents like Aadhaar and voter identity cards. What is more alarming is their confession that they had crossed over from Myanmar only on Wednesday and Thursday (September 8 & 9).

“The fact that they got forged documents so fast provides irrefutable proof that there is a thriving racket of forgers and middlemen who are providing the illegal infiltrators from Myanmar fake documents to facilitate their passage to other states,” said a senior Intelligence Bureau (IB) officer.

“If the Mizoram state authorities are unaware of this racket, it reflects very poorly on the state administration and if they are aware, it amounts to a sinister collusion that calls for strong and coercive action,” the officer added.

Preliminary questioning of the arrested Myanmarese nationals by the Guwahati Police has revealed that they had travelled by road from Aizawl to Guwahati and were awaiting help from some middlemen to travel to Delhi by train.

“It is not yet known what they were planning to do in Delhi. The arrested (including 10 women) are giving conflicting answers. All of them are Christians and a lot of Christian evangelical literature has been found on them,” said a senior Assam Police officer.

“This is extremely alarming and poses a grave internal security risk. These foreigners who have entered India illegally and are in the possession of forged citizenship documents can easily go into hiding anywhere else in the country and carry out a range of subversive activities. It will be very difficult to trace them,” said the IB officer.

The Myanmarese who have entered India illegally are also a very vulnerable lot. “They can easily become victims of human trafficking and can also be recruited very easily by anti-national agencies to carry out various sorts of activities that can pose a threat to the country’s security, integrity and even social and communal harmony,” said the IB officer.

That is why the Union government has to intervene immediately and very strongly to force the Mizoram government to register all those who enter the state from Myanmar and keep close tabs on them.

The Mizoram government, and the Mizos in general, are understandably sympathetic to the Chin refugees from Myanmar because of their shared ethnicity and Christian faith. That this ‘generosity’ and show of ‘humanity’ is hypocritically restricted only to the Chin people, and not to persecuted minorities belonging to other faiths and racial stock from other countries, is another matter.

There is, thus, no point in asking the Mizoram government to arrest and deport the Myanmar nationals who have taken refuge in the state. As has been said, it is impossible to prevent their entry (given the porous border) and to deport them.

Deporting the Myanmarese would mean their certain persecution at the hands of the Tatmadaw, and India should not facilitate this on moral and humanitarian grounds.

But Delhi can, and must, insist that all those who enter Mizoram from Myanmar are registered and housed in designated shelters. Delhi should make it clear to Mizoram that it is the sole responsibility of the state government to keep close tabs on the refugees and ensure that they stay in the designated shelters.

The Union government has been reluctant to officially provide shelter to the fleeing Myanmarese since that would be seen as an ‘unfriendly act’ by the ruling military junta in Myanmar. New Delhi is keen on retaining its friendly ties with the junta in order to prevent it from developing very close links with Beijing.

In the past, India had supported pro-democracy movements in Myanmar and that not only angered the Tatmadaw, but pushed it into Beijing’s embrace. India also suffered as Myanmar started sheltering insurgent groups of the North East.

New Delhi is walking a tightrope between keeping the Tatmadaw happy while, at the same time, not completely alienating pro-democracy forces fighting the junta which seized power in Myanmar in early February this year.

It would, thus, be wise for New Delhi to allow Mizoram to provide shelter to the refugees from Myanmar. New Delhi can even covertly help the Mizoram government provide aid — food, houses, clothing and other material needs — to the refugees. But, at the same time, it is imperative for New Delhi to ensure that the stay and movements of the refugees is closely monitored and strictly restricted.

The coming weeks will see a greater influx of refugees from Chin province since the Chin rebels have stepped up their attacks on the Myanmar army, inviting brutal retaliation from the Tatmadaw. The Tatmadaw has used fighter aircraft and helicopter gunships to bomb villages and towns in the Chin province.

The intensifying fight between the Chin rebels and the Myanmar army will only result in a huge number of refugees flooding into Mizoram. It is important for India to not only look after them, but also keep close tabs on them.

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

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