Conflicts & War

Indian villagers play Good Samaritan for Myanmar refugees escaping coup

By Sangzuala Hmar

Champhai, India, Mar 26 (efe-epa).- When India warned against a possible influx of refugees fleeing the Myanmar coup, Mizoram in its northeast defied to help those escaping the humanitarian crisis unfolding in the neighborhood.

Villagers along the border sheltered their “cultural brethren” who faced a brutal military crackdown in Myanmar that shares nearly 1,700 km (some 1,000 miles) land border with India.

After a tiring day, Hupliana (not his real name), a 79-year-old resident of a border village in Champhai district of Mizoram, returned home with a kilogram of pork meat.

“We have guests, we have to feed them well,” he said, seemingly happy.

The guests are the Myanmar citizens who have fled their home after the military on Feb.1 toppled an elected government led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy.

“I do not call them refugees, I call them khual tha (guests). We Mizos do not turn away anyone in need of help. Who would, if you know your guests are likely to die if you turn them away.”

Some 327 refugees, including pregnant women and children, have taken shelter in the border village.

The Mizos have embraced them with open arms as they share the same cultural bond with the Chin tribe of Myanmar.

There is no refugee camp in the village.

The village was the first to open its homes after the coup in Myanmar and a subsequent crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators that have left hundreds dead in the weeks of protests.

“(Some) 30 families have guests. My family has two couples and their children. Until it is safe for them to return, I will share with them whatever I have,” Hupliana told EFE.

At the forefront of arranging food and other essentials is a nonprofit, Young Mizo Association.

YMA activists distribute relief material collected from other villagers and organizations.

The spirit to help the crisis-ridden people has created an unlikely political divide in Mizoram.

The odd is that the ruling Mizo National Front (MNF) is an ally of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that governs at the center.

The federal government is against housing Myanmar refugees, while the state administration of the MNF favors otherwise.

The federal home ministry on Mar.10 asked all border states and boundary guards in the northeast of India to prevent illegal migrants from crossing over and deport those who have crossed over.

“Till now, none of the refugees has been sent back. But they are restricted from moving around. With the numbers increasing, I do not know how long can we shelter and feed them,” YMA activist Lalhmingthanga told EFE.

He said his organization vainly pleaded with the Assam Rifles, an Indian paramilitary force that guards the border.

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