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Manipur push back policy on Myanmar refugee; One of the causes of current conflict


After a military coup took place on 1st of February 2023, there has been refugees from Myanmar entering Mizoram and Manipur. They are mainly from the Chin tribe. Times of India reported on 26th May 2023 that Mizoram is home to 43,703 refugees from Myanmar including internally displaced people from Manipur. Of this, the Mizoram state home department officials said 35,126 refugees from Myanmar have taken shelter in Mizoram since March 2021, after a military coup in Myanmar. 

By Ngaranmi Shimray

Mizoram policy was to deal with fleeing Myanmar refugees is humanitarian and kept a close watch, while Manipur adopted a policy to push back by driving them away but failed to prevent them from entering the porous border and setting up temporary shelters deep in the forest. Mizoram through transparent policy kept a close tab on the refugees, while Manipur got a shock when they found them deep in the forests in temporary shelters. This is nothing but a total failure of policy choice. Manipur is trying now to rectify the policy failure through fire fighting approach by carrying out a census and bio-metrics drive. Guess which state had a better policy?


After a military coup took place on 1st of February 2023, there has been refugees from Myanmar entering Mizoram and Manipur. They are mainly from the Chin tribe. Times of India reported on 26th May 2023 that Mizoram is home to 43,703 refugees from Myanmar including internally displaced people from Manipur. Of this, the Mizoram state home department officials said 35,126 refugees from Myanmar have taken shelter in Mizoram since March 2021, after a military coup in Myanmar.

This article examines the strategies of the two governments, Mizoram and Manipur, on dealing with the Myanmar refugees.

The Mizoram government allowed the Myanmar refugees to enter the state and placed them in relief camps. They are refugees as long as they come into another country or territory and are housed in temporary shelters by the government. This orderly management of refugees took place in Mizoram. Orders were issued by Mizoram government that the refugees cannot settle in the state, are prohibited from taking up any kind of work and not allowed to leave their camps. For their shelter the refugees were given tarpaulins to build makeshift tents as well as blankets, commodes, hygiene kits and other essential items. The Myanmar refugees were housed in different villages namely, Hmawngbuchhuah village hosting 210 refugees, 137 refugees took shelter in Dumza Tulang while 127 and 115 refugees took shelter in Laitlang and Zochachhuah villages, respectively. Their records are being maintained properly in registers. Funds for relief purposes were given by the Central government to Mizoram.

In contrast, the policy of Manipur government is to prevent the refugees from entering Manipur and detecting those who have entered and pushing them back immediately. Manipur does not set up relief camps, provide food, shelter or humanitarian assistance to the refugees entering Manipur from Myanmar. The policy of Manipur government is to push them back. But doing this is easier said than done as more than half of them are distressed women and children/babies requiring immediate humanitarian care. Sending them back to a war zone from where they have escaped is not a solution as they can come back through another opening in the porous international border. They are fleeing from the atrocities of the Myanmar army who are fighting the Arakan Army. The Myanmar army are known to have bombed and burned villages and have no qualm in killing civilians. By flooring this policy of not setting up relief camps and sending them back straight away, the refugees become illegal immigrants as they enter through some other parts of the porous international border and set up temporary shelters deep in the forests.

Perturbed with reports of settlement of illegal immigrants from Myanmar, the Manipur government had set up a Fact Finding Committee and it had detected in the five hill districts, a total of 2,480 illegal immigrants or refugees from Myanmar. Out of these 2,480 illegal immigrants, 1,147 people were detected in the Tengnoupal district, where they have established 13 villages. In Chandel, a total of 1,175 people were detected in 10 villages. These villages were established by illegal immigrants who are refugees from Myanmar in recent times. Likewise, 154 illegal Myanmar nationals established 6 new villages in hill areas of Churachandpur district. On 24th July 2023, fresh refugees numbering 718 were reported to have entered Tengnoupal district. This now takes the total to 3,198 refugees in Manipur.

The Manipur government policy of dealing with refugees from Myanmar is just the opposite of Mizoram. Mizoram accepted them and the immediate response was to provide them humanitarian assistance. These refugees were housed in four villages to distribute the burden to a manageable level by a village. In contrast the refugee policy of Manipur is to push them back immediately upon detection. The international border between India and Myanmar being very porous many of the refugees who may have been pushed back must have re-entered through another route and travelled further into the interior to escape detection and, possibly, with the help of villagers with whom they have close affinity must have made makeshift temporary shelters. The Myanmar refugees entering Manipur in this manner would never have happened if, like Mizoram, the government of Manipur had managed them at the border and distributed them to different relief camps. Similar rules laid down by Mizoram government could also have been adopted by Manipur. This way the Manipur government would have been able to keep records and closely monitor the refugees.

While the Mizoram approach made it possible for the government to keep a tab on the number of refugees and enforce do’s and dont’s. In contrast the Manipur government pushed the refugees immediately upon detection and it appears that this compelled them to made a detour and re-enter Manipur as they may not have a village to go back to in Myanmar and their lives would not be safe in their country in view of the ongoing war between the Myanmar army and the Arakan Army.

Such survival response on the part of the Myanmar refugees has been interpreted by the Manipur government as a covert attempt by the people in Chandel, Tengnoupal and Churachandpur to settle them in the forests. This may not be the case at all and this may not have happened had the Manipur government adopted similar policy as Mizoram did. They would have been hosted in different villages, registered and accounted for, not allowed to work and not allowed to leave the relief camps. The government of Manipur understood the temporary settlements in the forest as an attempt by the Kuki-Zo to settle the refugees (illegal immigrants) in the forest to change the demography of the state or to grow poppy. Blaming the villagers for having compassion and empathy by helping their brethren (another human being ) fleeing a war and accusing the Kuki-Zo tribe of supporting illegal immigration to settle in the forests is misleading. If any one is to be blamed, it is the faulty policy of the government of Manipur of not having a humane and humanitarian policy. The Myanmar refugees were not given any relief assistance at the border, pushed back upon detection thereby creating the current problem of illegal settlements which would never have happened had it been dealt in the same manner as Mizoram government did.

Throughout the world, wherever there is war and unrest, affected population flee from the fighting zones for their lives. The most vulnerable among them are women and children. This is the reason the the United Nations intervene to save lives whenever such humanitarian crisis takes place. However, India is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, nor does it have a domestic legal code to identify and protect refugees. But this has not prevented India to take Burmese refugees in the past and even today as seen in Mizoram. Following the 1962 Burmese coup d’état, 155,000 Burmese Indians were repatriated to India and resettled by the Indian government in ‘Burma Colonies’ in cities like Chennai, Tiruchirappalli and Madurai. Most of them must have returned after normalcy returned to their homeland. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR),India,  has registered between 3,000 and 4,000 Burmese living in Delhi who are primarily Chin and a few of them are still in the country.

The Manipur tribal villagers are humans and are compassionate towards people in distress. They would not shut their doors to helpless women and children fleeing for their lives. They would like to help another human being fleeing in distress from conflict areas through thickly forested jungles for days with women and children in toe. Relief camps provide temporary shelter arrangement while the refugees wait for normalcy to return in their homeland. Manipur government need to understand the plight of the refugees from Myanmar and show compassion and humane handling of crisis.

After all, war and unrest is becoming a very common thing across the world. You never know or can tell when we may be the next refugee fleeing our homeland. Spread compassion and empathy. You may need it for yourself when it happens to you.

(Ngaranmi Shimray is a New Delhi based activist. He can be contacted at [email protected]. The opinion expressed in the article is his personal and does not represent the views of The Frontier Manipur.)


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