Countering Home Minister Amit Shah’s statement in Parliament last week that Kukis from Myanmar contributed to the present ethnic tension in Manipur, K. Vanlalvena, a Rajya Sabha member from Mizoram said that though his State had sheltered more than 40,000 “refugees” from the neighbouring country since 2021, they had never created any problems.
Mr. Vanlalvena’s party, the Mizo National Front (MNF), is a constituent of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
He was not allowed to speak on the Manipur issue even though he is the lone member representing the Mizo community in the Upper House, he said.
Muted in Parliament
“For everyday since the beginning of the Monsoon Session [on July 20], I gave notices to discuss Manipur, but it was never accepted by the Chair. On August 11, a day after Mr. Shah in Lok Sabha blamed the Kuki people from Myanmar, when I wanted to speak, the microphone was switched off and I was not allowed to put across my point,” Mr. Vanlalvena told The Hindu.
No one from the BJP has reached out to him, he said, adding that he had submitted a memorandum to Union Minister Sarbananda Sonowal after failing to get an appointment with Mr. Shah during the Monsoon Session of Parliament that concluded on August 11. “The Home Minister was extremely busy due to the debate on the no-confidence motion. I was asked by our Chief Minister to submit a memorandum demanding central aid for internally displaced people from Manipur, which I gave to Mr. Sonowal,” he said.
Influx of refugees
Around 12,000 people from Manipur took refuge in Mizoram after ethnic violence between the tribal Kuki-Zo people and the Meitei community erupted in Manipur on May 3. Last week, the Centre released ₹3 crore to the Mizoram government for the internally displaced people from Manipur, though the State had asked for ₹10 crore, Mr. Vanlalvena said.
Since the February 2021 military coup in Myanmar, there has been an influx of undocumented migrants from there. Over 40,000 refugees took shelter in Mizoram, while around 4,000 refugees are said to have entered Manipur. These migrants belong to the Kuki-Chin-Zo ethnic group, and share ethnic ties with the communities in Mizoram and Manipur.
Also read | India’s Myanmar quandary, its paradoxical policy
‘Refugees not to blame’
Mr. Vanlalvena said it was incorrect to blame the refugees for the violence. “I wanted to say in Parliament that all this problem is not created by Myanmar Kukis. More than 40,000 refugees from Myanmar came to Mizoram, they did not create any trouble. But Manipur government has stopped them since the beginning of military coup; if somebody entered, they arrested and put them in jail,” he said. “How were all disturbances created by Myanmar refugees alone? In Imphal, many houses and churches were burnt, all these buildings were not built by Myanmar refugees. It has been there in Manipur before the military coup, [so to say that] some tribals entered Mizoram and Manipur and created this trouble is incorrect,” he said.
Mr. Vanlalvena added that the Meitei community in Mizoram was safe. “Here in Aizawl, a shop run by a Meitei opposite my house is operating smoothly, there is no objection,” he said.
Kuki influx created insecurity: HM
On August 10, while intervening on the no-confidence motion moved by the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, the Home Minister had said that the conflict in the neighbouring “Brahmadesh” (Myanmar) had led to a lot of Kuki people crossing over to India through Manipur for their safety, as the international border in the State is under a Free Movement Regime (FMR). This influx, he said, had contributed to insecurity among the majority population of Manipur — the Meiteis — about purported large-scale demographic changes; what added to the tension was a rumour on April 29 that such migrant settlements have been declared “revenue villages”.
India and Myanmar share FMR within 16 km on both sides of the border. India allows Myanmarese nationals to stay for 72 hours without visa, while Myanmar allows stay only up to 24 hours. The Manipur government suspended the FMR in 2020, post the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Union Home Ministry wrote to the northeastern States in 2021, and as recently as April 28, 2023 to “take appropriate action as per law to check illegal influx from Myanmar into India”. It added that State governments have no powers to grant “refugee” status to any “foreigner”, noting that India is not a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention of 1951 and its 1967 Protocol.