In the last couple of years, Mizoram has seen an influx of refugees from Myanmar and recently from Bangladesh and now Manipur, adding to the internal security situation there. There is a variation in numbers from Myanmar given by the State government and security forces while there are over 8,000 from Manipur and over 900 people from Bangladesh which officials said was expected to go up further. Officials on the ground say that the influx from Bangladesh is particularly worrying with potential for smuggling of narcotics and weapons opening a new front for security forces to deal with.
As per the State Government, in all around 40,000 Myanmar nationals who have crossed into the border districts of Mizoram since the Military takeover there. Of them, about 8,000-10,000 had gone back and about 30,000 had been registered and issued identity cards as refugees, an official monitoring the situation said.
However, according to assessments by security forces on the ground there are over 18,000 Myanmar nationals as 8,000-10,000 have returned, which is accepted by sources in the security establishment. The State government had set up camps for them, however a majority of them were not staying in there, having moved out to stay with relatives or looking for work, officials said.
Mizoram shares a 510-km boundary with Myanmar and the population along the border have common linkages and share similar ethnicity which makes it difficult to stop people coming in. The State government has stated that anyone coming in from Myanmar would be let in, with the Centre directing that they should be duly registered.
Three Assam Rifles Battalions deployed in border guarding duties along the India-Myanmar Border (IMB) were also monitoring the situation, a source in the security establishment said. A particular concern on the IMB is smuggling, especially of narcotics the seizures of which have been growing year on year. For instance, the total worth of contraband and narcotics seized so far this year in Mizoram is ₹603.43 crore, up from ₹355 crore for the whole of 2022. This is in addition to war-like stores such as ammunition, explosives and other military equipment that have been seized.
In February 2022, Myanmar’s military junta imposed martial law across Chin, Kachin, Karen, Karenni, and Mon States, as well as in Yangon and Mandalay regions and also air strikes recently very close to the IMB. That has added to tensions in areas close to the border. The security situation along the IMB in Mizoram was being continuously monitored and was stable, the source mentioned above said.
According to the State government and Assam Rifles, around 8,000 people from Manipur have crossed into Mizoram since the violent situation there beginning early May and are being sheltered in State government camps.
Since November 2022, around 900 Kuki Chin people came into Mizoram from the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh after operations by Bangladesh Army in the area against Kuki Chin National Front (KCNF) and also targeting the new terror organisation Jamaa’tul Ansar Fil Hindal Sharqiya. Most of those who came in are women, children and elderly and are believed to be mostly the families of KCNF cadres, according to officials on the ground, and the numbers are expected to go up in the coming months.
A humanitarian angle the official pointed to that given the tough terrain in south Mizoram there was very little local produce and everything came in from the north. With refugees coming in, this was adding to shortage of resources and could lead to unrest in the local population, the official stated.
“South Mizoram has very thick jungles and there are no regular tracks. So someone is guiding them which could subsequently be used for smuggling of arms and narcotics,” one official on the ground said. Assam Rifles had projected security issues but there had been no action in that direction, officials added.
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Crystallising apprehensions in this direction, on March 10 the Lunglei Battalion of Headquarter 23 Sector Assam Rifles apprehended two cadres of the KCNA, one of them a high ranking cadre, at Hmunnuam village of Lawngtalai district.
According to a statement by Assam Rifles, the cadres, both Bangladeshi nationals, “were allegedly” attending a meeting of the KCNA at Bungtlang in which a plan was being hatched to smuggle weapons from Bangladesh to Myanmar. “On their way back they took a halt at a location where Bangladeshi illegal immigrants have been resettled. Assam Rifles had specific intelligence about their movements and whereabouts and launched an operation which helped in nabbing the suspects,” it said. An Assam Rifles official said that it is found that some of the refugees have managed to obtain Indian identity cards adding to the apprehensions.
However, on the possibility of terrorist elements sneaking into Mizoram, senior officials monitoring the situation expressed confidence that such a situation would not arise pointing that there was very good understanding with Bangladesh on the border.