Mizoram Government, Locals Extend Support To Refugees From Myanmar

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Posted in Featured, Mizoram

Ezrela Dalidia Fanai

On April 11 night, the residents of Farkawn village (a village on Mizoram’s side of River Tiau, bordering India and Myanmar) heard gunfire coming from the Chin state of Myanmar. This is four months after a military coup under Commander-in-chief General Min Aung Hlaing took over the control of Myanmar on the morning of February 1, 2021.

“On April 11, there were clashes between the military and People’s Defence Forces of Chin state. Hundreds of people, who have been camping on the banks of the river Tiau to the Myanmar side, fled to Mizoram and we have given them shelter at a private school located on the outskirts of the village,” said Lalramliana, 56-year-old Village Council President of Farkawn village.

As the authorities are wary of the COVID-19 pandemic, these Myanmarese nationals have been sheltered in the school and have been provided water, electricity and food by the village authorities and YMA. Those who are camping to the other side of the river are also provided silpaulin sheets to shield themselves from the monsoon rains.

Myanmar, formerly called Burma is no stranger to military rule. After gaining Independence from the British in 1948, it was ruled by the military from 1968 until 2011, when the National League for Democracy (NLD) under Aung Sang Suu Kyi won the elections by a landslide margin.

“NLD began to receive threats from the military since January this year. The pro-army political parties supported the coup saying that the last general elections were rigged,” said a 62-year-old NLD MLA seeking anonymity.

He also added that three weeks before the coup d’etat, the Deputy Commander of Myanmar Army’s North-Western command had shifted to Chin state, asserting the suspicion of a military coup.

“As General Hlaing would be turning 65 in July, he had asked for his extension. Between January 18 and 20, the military leaders met with Suu Kyi where demand for President’s post for Gen Hlaing was put up,” he further said.

“But the demand was rejected as Suu Kyi told the military during the meetings that the negotiation was a give-and-take situation and a demand from the General could not be accepted,” he added.

A 72-year-old MP from Chin state, who has also fled to Mizoram on March 4, 2021, and is currently working to strengthen the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH)- the Myanmarese legislative body in exile, narrated the day of the military coup on February 1, 2021. The Parliamentarian said, “February 1 and February 2 were slated for the opening of sessions in both Pyidaunsu Hluttaw- Amyotha Hluttaw (Upper House) and Pyithu Hluttaw (Lower House). The members of the Parliament have already suspected of a coup before the start of the Parliament session and we         had even discussed it amongst ourselves.”

The MP stated that representatives from the Chin state had arrived two weeks before February 1, where they were given Covaxin and were preparing logistics for the Parliament session.

The Support of the Mizoram Government and NGOs

Since the military coup in Myanmar on February 1, 2021, over 7000 Myanmarese nationals have fled to the state. Chief Minister Zoramthanga, in his speech on the occasion of Chapchar Kut on March 5, said, “All Mizo tribes from Myanmar who have entered Mizoram to escape the brutality of Myanmar’s military junta shall have the support of the Mizoram government until normalcy returns to their country.”

“We want you to feel safe and secure as your brothers and sisters are here to give support and safety as long as you shall require,” he further said adding that the state shall give funds for providing food and shelter to the refugees.

Various protests were also organised in Aizawl on March 16. The Mizo Zirlai Pawl (MZP) organised a candlelight vigil at the city centre, demonstrating their support for the democratically elected government of Myanmar.

It can be rightly said that the MZP has been instrumental in organising support for Myanmarese nationals seeking safety in Mizoram.

“Our student body has collected around Rs 30 lakh as funds within Mizoram and the United States. We have also submitted a memorandum to the Ministry of Home Affairs to grant refugee status to the Myanmar nationals who are scattered across Mizoram,” said MZP finance secretary Chinkhanmanga Thawmte while speaking to this correspondent.

The MZP has also arranged for temporary placement of Myanmarese in Mizoram, as well as providing food and other necessities.

An NGO named You Matter, founded by Vida Zonunmawii, is working towards supporting these Myanmarese nationals. Besides distributing food packages, the NGO also has a doctor who volunteers to vaccinate the Myanmarese refugees. The organisation is working with different local private hospitals to purchase vaccines.

“Since Mizoram has porous borders, we must vaccinate these refugees to prevent the further spread of COVID 19 in Mizoram,” said Vida.

Under the guidance of Mizo Zirlai Pawl, the NGO United for Democratic Myanmar was established, who had met with Mizoram Pradesh BJP President Vanlalhmuaka on March 6, 2021, and requested him to inform the Centre to give refuge to Mizo tribes from Myanmar who have crossed over the border to Mizoram to escape the brutality of Myanmar military junta after the coup.

The road ahead…Role of Media in Myanmar

The media has never enjoyed a sense of freedom in Myanmar. A senior reporter from Chinland Today from the Chin state of Myanmar said, “There is no sense of freedom in Myanmar. People are afraid if they see a man clad in fire rescue uniform.”

The 30-year-old journalist also stated that the NLD has always kept a check on the anti-government reports made by the media.

“The media in Myanmar is against NLD. We have always faced obstacles in producing news,” he added seeking anonymity.

He hopes that with funding coming from Chins settled in Australia and United States, a more united media vested in disseminating the plight of Myanmarese would soon be functioning.

(The story was published on May 2021 Issue of Northeast Today)

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