‘Brothers and sisters’: Indian village shelters Myanmar nationals | New

Mizoram, India – Dozens of residents gather at Vanapa Hall in Aizawl, the capital of Mizoram, a small state dominated by tribes in northeastern India that borders Myanmar. They light candles and carry placards, denouncing the military coup in Myanmar and the subsequent crackdown on anti-coup protesters.

During the protest last week, the crowd raised a three-fingered salute, symbol of resistance in Myanmar as a young woman sang Kabar Ma Kya Bu, a ballad sung for the first time in the following a similar coup in 1988 which has now become the protesters’ anthem. after the last one.

The protest in Aizawl was organized by Mizo Zirlai Pawl (MZP), a group of influential students from Mizoram.

On Saturday, the MZP, along with other civil society groups, held charity concerts, in which people donated more than 500,000 Indian rupees ($ 6,900), according to an MZP official, to help Myanmar security officials and nationals who fled the coup.

At least 300 people have been killed in Myanmar as the military government has continued its crackdown on anti-coup protesters since February 1, the date of the coup.

Since then, according to K Vanlavena, a legislator from Mizoram, “the number of migrants has risen to more than 1,000 spread across the state.”

“Brothers and sisters of Mizos”

But there are differences between Mizoram and New Delhi’s handling of this exodus from Myanmar.

While the state government is sympathetic to those fleeing the coup and demands that they be granted asylum, the latter gives instructions not to allow anyone to cross the border lest it become a real refugee crisis.

But the local Mizoram community has stepped in to support those fleeing the crackdown.

Residents of Farkawn, a small hilltop village overlooking the Chin Hills along the Indo-Myanmare border in Champhai District, have opened their homes to more than 300 Burmese citizens, some of whom claim to be police and emergency service agents.

“When they arrived, we went from house to house and asked people if they could give food, shelter. Many have responded to the demand, ”said K Lalmuankima, local unit president of the Young Mizo Association (YMA), an influential community organization.

“All the refugees are Chin. They are brothers and sisters of Mizos, ”said Lalmuankima, pointing to three Burmese citizens who took refuge in the house visited by Al Jazeera.

Hkaw, 22, dressed in a green longyi (traditional dress) and a blue jacket, claims to be a police officer from Thantlang in Chin State. He said he escaped after the military began to crack down on protesters.

“Every day, 2,000 to 3,000 people demonstrated. We were ordered to fire rubber bullets and tear gas at the demonstrators, ”Hkaw said.

“We cannot follow such orders. They capture community leaders and send them to jail, ”he said as two other Myanmar nationals nodded in agreement.

All three had joined the Myanmar anti-coup Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) before fleeing to India.

Meanwhile, the host family at Farkawn prepared their morning meal: rice, boiled vegetables and meat.

“These people came by leaving their homes and their families. They want a democratic administration in their country ”, declared the head of the family which shelters them.

“Even if more people come, we will keep them,” he said, on condition of anonymity.

Residents of Mizoram fear to release details of the people they are harboring after instructions from the federal government to state authorities to prevent the influx.

At the Champhai district headquarters, local community groups held a meeting on Sunday where they decided not to allow any journalists to meet the Burmese migrants.

“We are under pressure. You have to understand, ”a local organization official told Al Jazeera.

Camp Victoria

But the net of Burmese nationals crossing and seeking shelter continues. Many of them took refuge in Camp Victoria, the headquarters of the Chin National Army (CNA), one of Myanmar’s many armed ethnic groups with a history of conflict with the Myanmar military.

Camp Victoria sits just across the Tiau River on the India-Myanmar border with a small bridge connecting the two nations in this remote border.

The first sign that people from Myanmar were considering fleeing to India came when CNA leaders asked authorities in Farkawn village for permission for their families to cross in the event of hostilities with the military. from Myanmar.

With reports that some members of the Burmese military had settled near Camp Victoria, YMA’s Lalmuankima said there was fear of conflict between them and the CNA.

“The camp is no longer safe,” said Hkaw, who stayed at the camp before crossing. Residents say fears of hostilities between the ANC and the Burmese military forced them to cross.

Sources on the Indian side are calling the reports an exaggeration and claim that the Burmese military may have moved to prevent people from entering India.

The CNA signed a ceasefire agreement with the Myanmar government in 2012. The group was also a signatory to the 2015 Myanmar National Ceasefire Agreement.

Families on both sides of the border

“If the citizens of Myanmar who are our blood relatives come here to seek help, we can help them,” said VL Chama Hnamte, an AJM official.

“In many cases, the same families live on both sides of the border. “

Hnamte has two uncles and other relatives who live in Myanmar’s Chin State.

In the predominantly Christian state of Mizoram, community organizations such as YMA and MZP are often the first responders to civil society in times of crisis in Myanmar.

The AJM, modeled on the Christian Association of Young Men (YMCA), is present in every corner of Mizoram, with at least 400,000 members among the state’s 1.1 million residents.

“The Zo people were divided by the British between India, Myanmar and Bangladesh. The British came, conquered and divided us, ”said R Sangkawia, president of the Zo Reunification Organization (ZORO), a group that aims to reunite the Zo people scattered across the region.

Sangkawia, an octogenarian, was an armed member from 1966-1972 of the Mizo National Front, which led a secessionist movement until 1986, when it signed a peace accord with India.

The group then formed a political party which is currently in power in Mizoram.

“In the Chin Hills, we are called Chin; in Mizoram, Lushai; in Assam, Manipur, Tripura and Bangladesh, we are called Kuki, ”he told Al Jazeera.

Assam, Manipur and Tripura are three other states in northeast India.

“During the uprising, the Chin gave us shelter,” said Hnamte, who was also part of the MNF during the uprising.

This is not the first time that migrants from Chin have arrived in Mizoram. There are thousands of such migrants in the state, many of whom arrived in 1988 after the Burmese military crackdown on Chin fighters.

There have been instances of conflict between Chin settlers and Mizo groups such as AJM, the latter accusing them of “crimes and illegalities”.

However, when some Burmese citizens arrived in Champhai for refuge, it was the local YMA unit that intervened and handed them over to other community groups.

Community groups walk a tightrope

In its instructions to the four northeastern Indian states and the paramilitary forces stationed in the region, New Delhi made it clear that it did not want Burmese citizens to become refugees and ordered them to stop the influx.

India is not a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention or its protocols.

The New Delhi order has compelled community organizations in Mizoram to be wary of openly sheltering Myanmar nationals while walking a tightrope to avoid confrontation with authorities as they attempt to balance ties narrow ethnicities and Indian laws.

“We only give them shelter after they have crossed the border,” said PC Lalrawnliana, AJM secretary in Champhai, adding that the organization does not help people cross the border.

In Farkawn, when paramilitary force Assam Rifles arrested 14 Burmese nationals seeking refuge earlier this month, Lalmuankima said he asked them to let them stay and did not protest when they were pushed back.

“The Assam rifles told us they had orders to push them back,” he said. “We do not have the right to demonstrate,” Lalmuankima stressed. “They came without permission from the village authorities.

Others who avoided being arrested were hosted by local families. Al Jazeera met two women who arrived to join their spouses, who had crossed earlier.

“Before, the people who came were supporters of the MDP. The people who have come now are civilians, ”Lalmuankima said.

Request for sanctions

ZORO, meanwhile, demanded that the Indian government impose sanctions on the Burmese military and pressure it to release government leaders. He also demanded that India treat migrants from Myanmar like refugees.

“Those who come here should be protected as refugees in accordance with international law. They should not be pushed back, ”Sangkawia said.

“Blood is thicker than water. We have sympathy for them (Myanmar nationals).

Amid this local pressure, the state government has also supported migrants despite New Delhi’s tough stance.

Last week, Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga spoke with Zin Mar Aung, who was appointed acting foreign minister by the Committee representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, made up of members of the ousted government of the National League for democracy in Myanmar.

Zoramthanga called her Myanmar’s foreign minister. “I had a fruitful meeting (online) this morning with Zin Mar Aung, Hon’ble (sic) Minister of Foreign Affairs of Myanmar. Our thoughts and prayers are with the #Myanmar in these difficult times, ”he tweeted.

On March 18, Zoramthanga wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, claiming that the Chin and Mizo had close contact even before India became independent.

“India cannot turn a blind eye to this humanitarian crisis unfolding right in front of us in our own backyard,” he wrote.

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Christina A. Kroll