Mizoram: Senior citizen fleeing Bangladesh dies of hunger following BSF blockade

Aizawl: A pastor of the Bangladesh Tribal Baptist Church, Sawmkhup, among a group of over 500 seeking refuge in India, died of extreme hunger in the jungle, as per reliable sources. Sawmkhup, a senior citizen aged about 70, was part of a group of over 500 people fleeing their village of Cheikhiang in Bangladesh.

File photo of refugees fleeing Bangladesh

As a result of armed conflicts between the Bangladesh anti-terrorism unit, Rapid Action Battalion and ethnic insurgents, Kuki-Chin National Army(KNA), Kuki Chin refugees from Chittagong Hill Tract (CHT) in Bangladesh have started escaping their villages seeking safety in the border villages of Mizoram as the Kuki-Chin community in Bangladesh share ethnic ties with the Mizos.

“When they tried to cross the border, they were stopped by the BSF personnel. As they were afraid to return to their villages, they were living in the jungle and had run out of food. Unfortunately, Sawmkhup lost his life due to extreme hunger,” said Lalrammuana Renthlei, Secretary of the refugee organising committee in Parva village where over 170 refugees from Bangladesh have taken refuge. Sawmkhup had died in the thick of the jungle, from where it would take seven hours to walk to the closest village which is Simeinasora in Mizoram. 

On hearing the news a group of people from Simeinasora consisting of the police, and NGO representatives, as well as BSF personnel, had gone to collect his body. But on reaching there, they came to know that his body had been taken back to Bangladesh. 

Kuki Chins from the Chittagong Hill Tracts have been fleeing Bangladesh since last year

“The group of refugees consisting of young and old had fled their homes on December 28. They have been in the jungle for a long time and were running out of food and provisions. Out of 560 people, only 17 people somehow managed to enter the country on January 3. The rest were pushed back,” said Renthlei. Altogether, 328 people from Bangladesh have taken refuge in south Mizoram’s Lawngtlai district since November 2022. 

The Central YMA Executive Committee acted immediately after hearing of the incident and called for a sit-in protest on Monday, January 9, 2023. They have called for all Mizo people to gather near the Raj Bhavan gate in Aizawl. “We find it unfortunate that people fleeing for their lives and seeking refuge in India are facing such difficulties. The YMA wants to appeal to the Indian government on humanitarian grounds. We appeal to the Indian government to provide their needs, including food and shelter,” said Prof. Lalnuntluanga, General Secretary of the Central Young Mizo Association. 

A group of refugees consisting of young and old had fled their homes on December 28

“We were shocked to hear of the death of Pastor Sawmkhup and hope that such kind of incident does not happen again,” he said. 

According to a report in Al Jazeera, the anti-terrorism unit, Rapid Action Battalion in Bangladesh, established in 2004, “has been accused of serious human rights violations and abuse of power.” They have been accused of extra-judicial killings and have been linked to politically motivated arrests, killings and enforced disappearances. 

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As per a report from Scroll, an operation launched by the Bangladesh security forces in the region has triggered a humanitarian crisis and localised famine in the areas where the Kuki-Chin tribes reside.

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