As another round of refugee crisis brews on the Mizoram-Bangladesh border, several members of the Kuki-Chin community were “pushed back” by the Border Security Force (BSF) on Friday, according to K. Vanlalvena, a Rajya Sabha member from Mizoram. He said not allowing the “ethnic Mizo” from Bangladesh to enter India would amount to “discrimination on ethnic grounds” as in the 1970s thousands of displaced Chakmas (mostly Buddhists) from Bangladesh were allowed to enter India and settle in Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh.
Mr. Vanlalvena shared a video clip with The Hindu where around 150 refugees, including women and infants, are sitting on their haunches in an agricultural field near Parva village. The BSF personnel are seen distributing biscuits to the refugees and one of them directs that “if everyone has arrived they should march ahead.”
A senior government official said it was “not a case of push-back” and a BSF team stopped them on coming to know that a group was headed towards Mizoram. An official said the BSF had no instructions to let the refugees enter India and they returned on their own once explained that they would be treated as “illegal migrants,” if they continued to stay put in the Indian territory.
The official said BSF doctors also provided medical assistance to a pregnant woman, part of the group, who went into labour on the border. “The women gave birth to a healthy baby with the assistance of BSF doctors; she returned to Bangladesh with the group the next day,” said the official.
Mr. Vanlalvena said around 1,000 refugees were waiting to enter India.
Kuki-Chin, the Christian community from Bangladesh’s Chittagong hill tracts, share close ethnic ties with people in Mizoram. The first tranche of around 300 refugees came in November 2022. The Mizoram government has approved setting up of temporary shelters and other amenities for the community, following an action by the Bangladesh Rapid Action Battalion against some insurgents belonging to the group.
Mr. Vanlalvena said he had written to Home Minister Amit Shah and Union Home Secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla to give necessary instructions to the BSF so that the displaced persons might be allowed to enter Mizoram and a “humanitarian catastrophe is avoided before it is too late.”
The January 4 letter stated that heavy fighting has erupted and is ongoing between Bangladesh Rifles troops and cadres of Kuki-Chin insurgent groups in neighbouring Bangladesh. “Due to these clashes, the civilian tribal people of neighbouring Chittagong hill tracts who are our ethnic brothers and sisters have fled in large numbers into our State seeking safety and refuge,” the letter said.
He said the State government, in collaboration with local community-based organisations and NGOs, was doing its best to provide relief to these displaced people.
“In addition to these displaced people who have already entered Mizoram, there are several more of our ethnic brethren, including breast-feeding infants and hapless women, who are also waiting to enter our State ... However, these displaced people are currently being prevented from entering our State by the BSF personnel apparently as they have not been given orders by the Ministry of Home Affairs to allow them to enter,” the letter said.
The letter recalled the 1970’s episode when thousands of Bangladeshi Chakma (Buddhists) immigrants were allowed to enter and settle in Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh following the construction of Kaptai Dam in Bangladesh “even though such persons were alien to our State, both ethnically and culturally.”
India is not a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention of 1951 and its 1967 Protocol and does not recognise refugees, and the undocumented migrants are liable to be prosecuted for violating the Foreigners Act.
Other than the Kuki-Chin, there are over 40,000 refugees from Myanmar who have taken shelter in Mizoram since a military coup in the neighbouring country in February 2021.