Leader of Indian state promises food and
shelter for families fleeing Myanmar
By Devjyot Ghoshal
Reuters 8 March 2021
AIZAWL, India (Reuters) - The chief
minister of a small Indian state into which a stream of refugees from
Myanmar have entered in recent days said on Monday that they should be
given temporary shelter, as the federal government decides on whether
some will be sent back.
Several low-ranking Myanmar police and their families
have crossed into northeastern Mizoram state, where they have sought
refuge to avoid taking orders from a junta that imposed a coup in the
Southeast Asian country last month.
But authorities in Myanmar last week asked officials in Mizoram to
detain and return eight police officers, raising concerns about their
safety if they are sent back by India.
“As common sense dictates, when there is a political problem in one
country and when there is a fear for one’s life, if they cross over to
the neighbouring countries, then normally they were not sent back,”
Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga said in an interview.
The final call would be taken by the federal government, which has been
communicating with Mizoram authorities and still hasn’t given clear
directions, creating some confusion on how the refugees would be
handled, he said.
“From the humanitarian point of view, we have to give them food, we have
to give them shelter,” said Zoramthanga, who uses only one name.
Myanmar and Mizoram share a 404-km (250-mile) border, with only a
shallow river currently dividing the two countries in some parts, making
it easy for people to cross.
Although the porous nature of the frontier made it difficult to estimate
exactly how many from Myanmar had walked into Mizoram in recent weeks,
Zoramthanga said it could be between 20 and 30.
But a senior police official in Mizoram’s capital said nearly 100 people
from Myanmar, mostly police and their families, had crossed over in five
Some of the defected Myanmar police have told Indian officials they fled
after being ordered to use violence against protesters, who have staged
weeks of demonstrations against the coup that deposed the civilian
government of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.
More than 50 people have been killed by security forces, according the
United Nations, with some 1,700 people detained, including Suu Kyi.
The situation has put India in a potential diplomatic bind, given New
Delhi’s close relations with the Myanmar military, which it works with
on counter-insurgency operations in the northeastern region.
Zoramthanga, a 76-year-old rebel leader turned politician, said that
tribes in Mizoram had deep cultural links with those on the Myanmar
side, but the major concern was risk to lives that was forcing them to
“We have to have sympathy for them,” he said.