Imphal/Guwahati: Over seven dozen police and fire services personnel have crossed over from Myanmar seeking shelter in Mizoram, security sources said on Tuesday.
In another important development, N Biren Singh, Chief Minister of neighbouring Manipur which also shares a border with Myanmar, said he is worried about the developments in the neighbouring country.
“I am really worried,” Chief Minister Singh told EastMojo in an exclusive interview at his residence in Imphal on Monday. “The decision to lend a helping hand has to be taken nationally… As an immediate neighbouring state CM, we are prepared to welcome any civilian who may cross over from Myanmar due to military atrocities,” he said. “So all people, whoever comes, we will give shelter, we will serve them, we will protect them. That kind of things we have already prepared for,” he said.
“It is very unfortunate. Democracy should be there,” Chief Minister Singh said. Amid a crackdown on anti-military coup protestors in Myanmar, scores have crossed over to Mizoram.
Sources in the Assam Rifles, the paramilitary force which guards the border with Myanmar, told EastMojo that the number of those who have crossed over from Myanmar to Mizoram and have been traced since March 1 is estimated to be 136 spread over four districts.
The number includes 89 Myanmar nationals who claim to be from the police, or fire services employees, the source said. There are at least eight persons who have either been pushed back or returned to Myanmar.
“There are several who are waiting to cross over,” the source said.
Those seeking shelter include 12 in Champhai, including eight who claim to be from the police/fire services, 19 in Sercchip including four who claim to be from the police/fire services, four police/fire services personnel in Hnahthial and 101 Myanmar citizens in Siaha including 73 who claim to be from police/fire services, the source said.
“Whosoever is crossing over, we are sending the details to the home department,” Kesavan R, Deputy Commissioner Siaha said, adding that there are no community centres sheltering refugees in the district and most of the ones who have suspected to have crossed over are taking shelter with their relatives.
“Many of them said they have just come for shopping. There is a free movement regime in place,” Kesavan R said.
The free movement regime came to a virtual halt after the international borders were ordered sealed last year in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, putting brakes on cross-border movement of people. “The free movement regime remains suspended as the designated border crossing points are still shut,” the Assam Rifles source said.
Mizoram shares a 510-kilometre porous border with Myanmar, making it difficult to prevent those fleeing the coup from crossing over, the Assam Rifles source said.
With the residents of the neighbouring Chin state from the same larger tribal clans as the Mizos, the state government and residents have been sympathetic and sensitive during times of conflict, a Mizoram government official in a border district pointed out.
“From the humanitarian point of view, we have to give them food, we have to give them shelter,” Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga told Reuters on March 8.
On February 27, the state’s home department circulated a standard operating procedure (SOP) for “(the) facilitation of refugees & migrants from Myanmar.”
On March 6, the state government sent a memo revoking the SOP. The single sentence memo signed by David H Lalthangliana, the deputy secretary of the state’s Home Department did not specify why the SOP was being revoked.
The SOP, as per a copy reviewed by EastMojo, called for proper identification and collection of details of all those entering Mizoram from Myanmar. It said only those persons “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 district authorities were authorised to exercise their discretion in matters of those migrants who did not fall in this category, as per the SOP.
The SOP also said that the “authorities shall ensure that the foreign nationals who are treated as refugees do not have free access for movement within villages, inter-district and outside the state.”
“The SOP has been revoked. We are awaiting a fresh SOP,” Kesavan R said. Sanghchin Chinzah, the Home Secretary of Mizoram, told EastMojo last week that the state was waiting for directions from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). She could not be contacted on Tuesday. But Zoramthanga told Reuters that the state government is in contact with the Centre but there are no clear directions yet.
The SOP had led to confusion. Sources in the border guarding paramilitary said they had instructions from the Centre to follow the laws and not allow any illegal foreigners.
India is not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol. There is no refugee framework either.