Mizoram, March 22: The Assam Rifles has stepped up vigil along with the porous India-Myanmar border in Mizoram and is conducting 24×7 patrols to curb the influx of refugees fleeing the neighbouring country.
The heightened security comes even as the central and state governments remain at odds about the way the refugees ought to be treated.
Earlier this month, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) wrote to the Assam Rifles and the four states that share a border with Myanmar directing them to “check illegal influx” from the country, and citing earlier guidelines that call for the identification and deportation of illegal migrants.
However, the Mizoram government has cited close ethnic ties between the Mizos and residents of the bordering Chin state to argue that it can’t be “indifferent to their sufferings”.
Dozens of political refugees from Myanmar — including policemen — have fled the coup-hit country to seek asylum in Mizoram since last month, amid reports of human rights excesses.
Most of the refugees are from Myanmar’s Chin state, which shares a 404-km border with Mizoram. The residents of Chin share close ethnic ties with the Mizo and Kuki tribes that are scattered across Mizoram and Manipur.
This has resulted in a delicate situation for the Assam Rifles, who share a good rapport with local residents and often seek their help in anti-smuggling operations, as they look to implement the MHA order.
Sources in the Assam Rifles said that the force has stepped up surveillance along the border and has been closely monitoring 58 crossing points — identified by Assam Rifles as being vulnerable to infiltration and illegal activities such as smuggling — over the last few weeks.
“We are manning all the crossing points along the border 24×7 with troops on rotation,” a source from Assam Rifles said, adding that patrols are being conducted strictly along the border.
India and Myanmar share friendly ties with each other, and the security forces of both countries have carried out multiple joint operations against Indian insurgent groups that sought a safe haven in Myanmar.
Both the countries have a free movement regime (FMR) that allows people in border villages to trade and move freely up to 16 kilometres inside each other’s territory. But the FMR has been suspended since March 2020 on account of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Brigadier Digvijay Singh, the commander for Assam Rifles in Mizoram said the suspension has resulted in more illegal transhipment of goods since people in border villages need some economic activity for their livelihood.
Asked about the Myanmarese nationals fleeing their country to seek asylum in Mizoram, he said “there is not much movement (at the border)” as of now.
“The few people who have come across are mostly from the FMR and are confined only to community halls near the border, and all are accounted for,” he added.
In a letter dated 18 March to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga said India could not turn a blind eye to the “humanitarian crisis unfolding in front of us in our own backyard”.
“It may be mentioned that the Myanmar areas bordering Mizoram is inhabited by Chin communities who are ethnically our Mizo brethren with whom we have been having close contact throughout all these years even before India became independent,” he wrote. “Therefore, Mizoram cannot just remain indifferent to their sufferings today.”
The chief minister said the MHA’s directive to the four northeastern states — Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Nagaland, and Manipur — and to Assam Rifles, urging them to prevent the influx of refugees from Myanmar and start their deportation, which is not acceptable to Mizoram.
“I therefore strongly urge you to intervene so that the political refugees from Myanmar are given asylum and provided food and shelter here in the country,” he said.
Last month, after the coup, the Mizoram Home Department issued a standard operating procedure to the deputy commissioners of the districts bordering Myanmar to help the refugees arriving from the country. However, after the MHA’s 10 March order, the SOP was revoked by the state government.
On Friday, a delegation representing CM Zoramthanga met the Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Nityanand Rai, and the two sides discussed the “pressing need to extend necessary help and support to Myanmar refugees who are victims of violence and brutality under military rule in Myanmar”.
According to a statement issued by the Mizoram government, the delegation ruled out the possibility of deporting the refugees until the situation in Myanmar normalizes.