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India deports Myanmar immigrants from violence-hit Manipur

77 illegal immigrants were deported in the first phase and one Indian national brought back during a handover ceremony
This picture taken on Sept 24, 2021, shows refugees collecting water at Pang village in India's eastern state of Mizoram near the Myanmar border, after people fled across the border following attacks by Myanmar's military on villages in western Chin state.

This picture taken on Sept 24, 2021, shows refugees from Myanmar collecting water at Pang village in India's eastern state of Mizoram after they fled across the border following attacks by the military junta on villages in western Chin state. (Photo: AFP)

Published: May 03, 2024 04:25 AM GMT
Updated: May 03, 2024 04:30 AM GMT

India has completed the first phase of deporting “illegal immigrants” from Myanmar from the border state of Manipur, which witnessed unprecedented Hindu-Christian clashes last year, an official said.

"Without any discrimination, we have completed the first phase of deportation of illegal immigrants from Myanmar with 38 more immigrants leaving Manipur,” state Chief Minister N Biren Singh said in a social media post on May 2.

"A total of 77 illegal immigrants have been deported in the first phase. One Indian national was also brought back from Myanmar during the handover ceremony," said Singh, who runs the state government led by pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)

He said his government is “continuing the identification of illegal immigrants and at the same time biometric data are being recorded. Let’s keep our borders and country secure.”

Singh and his BJP-led government faced criticism last year for its inability to impartially control the unprecedented clashes between majority Meitei Hindus and Kuki Christians since May 2023.

Tension continues, with sporadic violence reported from different parts of the state. Until February this year, the violence has killed at least 219 people and displaced over 60,000, according to published reports.

The deportation started in March as the border state began preparing for the elections of its two members to the national parliament. The elections were completed on April 30.

Thousands of civilians have fled the junta violence in Myanmar, crossing into ethnic violence-hit Manipur and another north-eastern state, Mizoram. Native Mizos share ethnic bonds with Kukis and Zo people in Manipur and some segments of Chin people in Myanmar.

An estimated 30,000 "Myanmar people," including a large number of children and school students, had taken shelter in Mizoram province since February 2021, when the violence started after a junta took power through a coup and deposed an elected government.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government and especially his trusted Home Minister Amit Shah had come under severe attack for the ethnic clashes and assault on women in Manipur in 2023.

In January this year, the federal government in Delhi decided to “seal” the open border with Myanmar.

The proposed border sealing will "mainly impact indigenous tribes" in the northeast region, such as Nagas and Mizos, most of whom are Christians and share ethnic affinity and kinship ties.

Indigenous people's groups' leaders and rights activists met in Dimapur, a commercial city in Nagaland state, on February 16. They condemned the decision to abolish “free movement” across the Myanmar border.

Some Naga inhabitants claimed their livelihood was threatened because their agricultural lands were in Myanmar. They lived in India but cultivated lands in Myanmar, they said.

“All these issues ought to be discussed and understood well,” said Wangnei Konyak, the chief of Longwa village on the border.

India and Myanmar agreed in 1950 to allow “natives to move freely” into each other's territories without passports or visas along the 1,643-kilometer land border covering four Indian states — Mizoram, Nagaland, Manipur, and Arunachal Pradesh.

The 1950 pact underwent several changes over the years, and in 2004, India decided to limit free movement to just 16 kilometers.

Some Naga inhabitants even claimed a threat to livelihood as their agricultural lands were in Myanmar. They lived in India but did their farming in Myanmar, they said.

Over 87 percent of people in Nagaland and Mizoram are Christians, while Manipur has over 41 percent, and Arunachal Pradesh has around 30 percent Christians.

The Manipur chief minister, a Hindu, is said to have proposed fencing the border. However, the chief ministers of Nagaland and Mizoram have openly opposed this.

Manipur officials said around 6,000 refugees from Myanmar have taken shelter in the state.

Officials said Mizoram’s Champhai district, adjoining Myanmar, witnessed the most intrusions from the Chin region in February 2022 — around 2,500.

Mizoram Chief Minister Pu. Lalduhoma, also a tribal Christian who is against fencing the border, expressed his helplessness as border management falls under the federal government's responsibilities.

“If the center [government in New  Delhi] goes ahead with its plan, we have no authority to stop it,” he said.

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