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EditorialsMyanmar refugees: India walks tightrope

Myanmar refugees: India walks tightrope

Published: 25th Mar 2021 12:00 am | Updated: 24th Mar 2021 11:59 pm

The influx of refugees from Myanmar, including policemen fleeing the military crackdown, has created new diplomatic challenges for India. Beyond joining the international community in urging the military junta to restore democracy, New Delhi does not have much elbow room in the matter because the urgent task on hand is to check the flow of refugees into the country. A prolonged political instability in Myanmar is bound to disturb peace in the northeastern region which suffered due to insurgency for a long time. In the past, the insurgent groups often found shelter in Myanmar but the region is now relatively calm. The credit for this must go, at least partially, to Myanmar’s military which had helped in flushing out extremist elements. New Delhi has a dependable ally in Min Hlaing, the military leader of Myanmar who has been a vocal critic of China for their support to the anti-national rebel Arakan Army. India is now caught in a delicate situation over the status of policemen who have sought refuge in India after fleeing the military excesses. It can neither afford a bitter stand-off with the Myanmar military nor can it give in to the demand for the return of the policemen. The police in the neighbouring country are reported to be under instructions to shoot and kill the protesters as the unrest against the military coup intensifies. Some Myanmar police officials refused to follow this order and instead fled to India.

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The refugee influx has led to differences between Mizoram and the Central government on how to handle the evolving situation. While the Union government has asked the northeastern States to keep a vigil on the border and prevent the entry of refugees, Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga has defied the order and announced that his government would make temporary arrangements of providing food and shelter for those fleeing Myanmar, keeping in mind the sentiments of local Mizo people who empathise with the refugees, particularly those belonging to the Chin ethnic group that have close links to various Mizo tribes. India cannot turn a blind eye to the humanitarian crisis in the name of protecting its strategic interests. No doubt, infiltration is a sensitive issue in the northeast. The BJP leadership has been tough on immigrants and, in fact, won popular support in the region by siding with local communities threatened by the illegal influx, mainly from Bangladesh. However, in the case of Myanmar refugees, the situation is different, as many of the border people are from the same tribe and have relatives and friends living on either side. India shares a 1,643-kilometre border with Myanmar and is home to thousands of refugees from Myanmar spread across different States.

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