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India seals Myanmar border amid strains over refugee crisis

A police officer and a man walk on a bridge across Tiau river along the India-Myanmar border in Champhai village in Mizoram on March 20, 2021.

A police officer and a man walk on a bridge across Tiau river along the India-Myanmar border in Champhai village in Mizoram on March 20, 2021.

Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga held a virtual meeting on Sunday with Foreign Minister of Myanmar Zin Mar Aung amid the ongoing military crackdown following the February coup, even as India has sealed all entry points along the border with the southeast Asian neighbour and is closely monitoring to prevent any Myanmar nationals from entering the country.

 

“Had a fruitful meeting (online) this morning with Zin Mar Aung, Hon'ble Foreign Minister, Myanmar. Our thoughts and prayers are with Myanmar in these trying times,” Mr. Zoramthanga said on Twitter. He had earlier written a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi urging intervention so that “political refugees” from Myanmar are given asylum to give food and shelter in the country.

Also read | India cannot turn a blind eye to crisis in Myanmar: Zoramthanga

The tussle between the Centre and State over the issue has created a tough time for New Delhi and security agencies in handling situation on the ground, according to multiple officials.

In the letter dated March 18, Mr. Zoramthanga said the people residing on both sides have close linkages. “India cannot turn a blind eye to the humanitarian crisis unfolding in front of us in our own backyard,” he had said.

The letter comes after a series of exchanges between the State and the Centre over the handling of the refugees. Stating that whole of Myanmar is in turmoil and “innocent hapless citizens are being persecuted” by the military regime who are supposed to be their guardians and protectors, Mr. Zoramthanga said the “Myanmar area bordering Mizoram is inhabited by Chin communities who are ethnically our brethren with whom we have been having close contacts throughout all these years even before India became independent.”

Also read:Mizoram MP flags rising influx of Myanmar refugees

Following the February 1 coup when the Myanmar military overthrew the democratically elected government, around 300 Myanmarese nationals including many policemen have crossed into India and sought refuge.

There is considerable support and sympathy among the people of Mizoram over the situation in Myanmar as many have relations across the border, a government official stated adding, it was a very emotive and sensitive issue in the State.

India and Myanmar have an arrangement called Free Movement Regime (FMR) which allows locals on both sides to go upto 16 km across the other side and stay upto 14 days. Thousands of Myanmarese nationals visit regularly for work and to meet relatives. In March 2020, FMR was suspended due to COVID-2019 and no one has been being allowed since. The fallout of this, officials said, was that there has been an increase smuggling across the border as the livelihood of people has been disrupted due to the pandemic.

On February 26, the State government had issued a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) to Deputy Commissioners detailing how the refugees are to be handled. This was subsequently revoked after directions from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).

After the MHA directive, no one is being allowed to enter India from Myanmar and the Assam Rifles, which is the border guarding force there, is keeping a close watch, said a second local official. However, the border is porous and unlike the Bangladesh border, over 60% of which is fenced, the Myanmar border is unfenced and completely blocking it not possible given the tough terrain. Mizoram shares a 510 km long border with Mizoram.

All the refugees who have come in earlier have been housed in camps along the border by the local administration and security forces have no direct access.

Explainer | Why did the Myanmar military stage a coup?

For central agencies and Assam Rifles on the ground, it is a tricky situation in maintaining a delicate balance in executing the MHA orders and maintaining the cordial relations with the States agencies and the locals, the official added.

In a letter to the four States bordering Myanmar dated March 10, MHA said State governments have no powers to grant refugee status to any foreigner and India is not a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention of 1951 and its 1967 Protocol.


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Printable version | May 15, 2022 2:47:41 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/india-seals-myanmar-border-amid-strains-over-refugee-crisis/article61923926.ece