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Indian Catholics help Myanmar Christian refugees

Catholic charities in Mizoram lend a helping hand as thousands flee unrest in the neighboring country

Indian Catholics help Myanmar Christian refugees

Refugees collect water at Pang village in India's northeastern state of Mizoram near the Myanmar border after people fled across the border following attacks by Myanmar's military on villages in Chin state. (Photo: AFP)

The Catholic Church in India’s Mizoram state has joined other Christian denominations and youth associations in assisting Christian refugees fleeing unrest in Myanmar.

According to media reports, over the past six months thousands of Christians from Myanmar have sought refuge in Christian-dominated Mizoram after the military junta intensified its crackdown on rebels in Chin state bordering India.

“At present there are around 15,000 refugees from Myanmar living in Mizoram, mostly in Champhai on the Indo-Myanmar border, a strategically important location,” Bishop Stephen Rotluanga of Aizawl told UCA News.

“The Church is engaged in humanitarian work along with several other denominations, Caritas India, Catholic Relief Services, the Young Mizo Association and NGOs. Our top priorities are to give them shelter, medicines and food and we have successfully executed our program along with the help of our partners.

“There is no problem for us to help the refugees because people from Myanmar have been coming back and forth to Mizoram for decades. Many have relatives on both sides of the border, hence people can understand their suffering and welcomed them with open arms.

“Many refugees are staying with their relatives and others are in relief camps managed by churches and NGOs. The Young Mizo Association is very active and helping all the agencies to fulfil the requirements."

There are several issues that have to be tackled with love and care as the refugees are in shock and are in trauma leaving their country

Bishop Rotluanga said the state government has encouraged and appreciated the relief work and Mizoram's chief minister had even asked the prime minister to help with emergency relief funds. 

“There are several issues that have to be tackled with love and care as the refugees are in shock and are in trauma leaving their country. Many have lost their near and dear ones. Most of them are Christians at our camp but there are also a few Muslims,” he said.

Several Myanmar refugees have been moving back and forth depending on the situation in their country but recent air strikes have made it one-way traffic recently.

Reports said that unrest intensified after the Chinland Defence Force and Chin National Army captured a Myanmar army camp close to the Mizoram border and detained 12 soldiers.

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“We are expecting more refugees in our state after fresh conflict flared up. We already have around 11,500 refugees in our state at present,” said C. Lalrosanga, a member of the lower house of parliament.

Lalrosanga said the Chins of Myanmar are ethnically related to the Mizos of Mizoram. Militias of the former have sided with the pro-democracy forces, specifically the National Unity Government, Myanmar’s government in exile.

State government officials say Myanmar refugees swim across the Tiau River or use small boats.

However, Lalrosanga said in the absence of any policy regarding Myanmar refugees, villagers in Mizoram have been taking care of the refugees.

He said that he and Mizoram state officials met Home Secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla recently to apprise him of the situation and seek assistance for the refugees on humanitarian grounds.

But according to an advisory from the Ministry of Home Affairs, states and union territories have no power to grant refugee status to any foreigner, and India is not a signatory of the UN Refugee Convention of 1951 and its 1967 protocols.

Mizoram, sandwiched between Bangladesh and Myanmar, is one of India's only three Christian-majority states. Christians form almost 90 percent of the state's 1.1 million people. In Meghalaya and Nagaland states, also in northeastern India, Christians are close to 90 percent.

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