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Indian state begins crackdown on 'illegal immigrants'

Nearly 5,457 people from civil war-hit Myanmar have been earmarked to be deported, claims Manipur’s chief minister
People carrying goods from Myanmar enter India through the Indo-Myanmar Friendship Gate in Manipur.

People carrying goods from Myanmar enter India through the Indo-Myanmar Friendship Gate in Manipur. (Photo: AFP)

Published: May 09, 2024 07:53 AM GMT
Updated: May 09, 2024 11:41 AM GMT

Sectarian strife-torn Manipur in northeastern India has identified thousands of “illegal immigrants" from civil war-hit neighboring Myanmar, according to its chief minister.

Nearly 5,457 illegal immigrants were detected and biometric data of 5,173 of them recorded. The deportation process is underway, Manipur state Chief Minister N Biren Singh said on May 8.

Deporting “illegal immigrants” from military-ruled Myanmar, a leading producer of opium in the world, started earlier this month in Manipur, where tribal Christians and the majority Hindus have been engaged in communal unrest since May 3, 2023.

Kuki tribal Christians, who form more than 40 percent of the state’s 2.6 million population, are against the move to confer tribal status on the Meitei Hindus.

This status helps them avail themselves of government social welfare benefits meant for tribal people, such as reservations of seats in government jobs and educational institutions.

Singh has always maintained that the unrest in the state has its roots in the war against drugs by the state administration over the past few years. Christians have accused Singh of supporting the Meiteis, who form more than 50 percent of the population.

India’s home ministry informed Rajya Sabha (upper house) in August 2023 that the nexus between the illegal trade in narcotics and terrorist activities is active in Manipur, where the sectarian conflict has claimed more than 220 lives, mostly Christians, so far.

In the last state assembly session, Singh informed the house that 6,746 illegal immigrants from Myanmar were detected from May 3 last year till Feb. 27 this year.

"A total of 77 illegal immigrants were deported in the first phase," the chief minister from the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on May 2.

Human rights activists have, however, questioned why the government is labeling as "illegal immigrants" thousands of people, including children, who fled as refugees from Myanmar, where armed ethnic rebels have been giving the junta a tough time over the last year.

Modi’s federal government accepted the nexus between the narcotics trade and violence in the state in response to a question by an opposition lawmaker. The home ministry substantiated its claim by informing the Rajya Sabha that 1,897 narcotics-related cases were registered and 2,622 people were arrested in Manipur from 2018 to May 31, 2023.

On May 8, Singh condemned activities of "homegrown groups” in Western countries" for giving a "communal tone" to the efforts to identify and deport illegal immigrants.

Though Singh did not name any group, he was referring to a meeting organized by the North American Manipur Tribal Association (NAMTA).

The NAMTA in a congressional hearing strongly condemned what it said was the state government's complicity in the violence.

"Ironically, this lobby is quiet about the Western countries' stance against illegal immigration,” Singh said.

This is a situation where the survival of “indigenous people is at stake and we will not allow it to continue.” Singh added.

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