Centre must welcome Chin refugees with open arms, Mizoram is already doing so

Source: The post is based on an article “Centre must welcome chin refugees with open arms, Mizoram is already doing so” published in the Indian Express on 19th July 2022.

Syllabus: GS 3 Internal Security,

Relevance: India’s refugee policy

News; In recent years, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has accused Myanmar’s Tatmadaw, a junta regime of perpetrating “crimes against humanity”. The rule has led to displacement of half a million Myanmar’s people within the country and forcing more than 50,000 ethnic Chin and others to seek refuge outside.

What were the issues in front of the Indian government on account of the Chin people influx into India?

There has been an unprecedented divergence between the Indian government and the Mizoram state government. The Centre has adopted a security-centric approach and the Mizoram government has adopted a people-centred focus.

What is the Centre’s perspective on refugees?

The Chin refugees are not refugees who have simply run away to save their lives. They are rebels who have opted to go into self-exile and continue to extend support to the People’s Defence Forces (PDF) and other anti-Tatmadaw militias like the Chin Defence Force and the Chin National Army. Therefore, MHA advised the state government to stay alert and take appropriate action to prevent a possible influx into Indian territory.

The Centre directed the North-eastern states bordering Myanmar that they do not have powers to grant “refugee status to any foreigner”.

What is the state government’s perspective on refugees?

The Mizoram government has defied the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) orders to “detect and deport the refugees”. The Mizoram state has extended a warm welcome to everybody wanting to come and decided to take Chin refugees. Simultaneously, the state government has also strongly communicated to the Central government that it cannot be “indifferent” to its concerns.

What were the issues in the Centre’s decision of not to grant asylum?

The Central government has denied asylum to the Chin people on the ground of India’s non-ratification of the 1951 UN Convention on the Status of Refugees and also its 1967 Protocol.

However, not being a party to the Convention does not prevent any state from granting asylum to the asylum seeker.

Moreover, even non-signatories are bound under customary international law to follow the principle of non-refoulment that protects the rights of asylum seekers not to be deported or pushed back to the country they have fled to escape violence in the first place.

What are the reasons behind the Mizoram government’s move to allow refugee status?

Both Mizo and Chin communities share a common history. There are unique social-political realities between the two people at the India-Myanmar international border.

Both come from the same larger Zo tribe, therefore share a strong ethnic bond predating India’s Independence.

Both communities are bound together by a common religion, i.e., both are predominantly Christians.

There is a Free Movement Regime (FMR) 2018 between India and Myanmar that allows both communities on either side to go up to 16 km on the other side and stay up to 14 days. Therefore, border landers routinely cross over on either side for trade in essential commodities, work, cross-border marriages, and as a result to meet relatives.

There is a history of mutual empathy and solidarity between the Mizos and the Chins. The Chin people have extended support and sanctuary to the members of the Mizo National Front. Similarly, during the 1988 pro-democracy movement in Myanmar, the Mizos extended a helping hand to the Chins who were subjected to brutal repression at the hands of the junta regime

The Way Forward

The Centre should recalibrate its policy toward the refugees and their hosts. It should grant refugee status to the Chin people. Further, it should help the state government to sustain the relief work.

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