The unfolding political crisis in Myanmar seems to have put India in a quagmire of sorts, with disagreements cropping up between the Centre and the Mizoram government over policies to deal with refugees.
Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga on Monday said it was the duty of his government to provide food and shelter to the Myanmarese, who fled their country to take refuge in the state on humanitarian grounds. On the other hand, the Union home ministry has written to the state governments of Mizoram, Nagaland, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh, as well as the Assam Rifles, asking them to identify Myanmar nationals fleeing the coup and deport them.
Several conflicting factors are at play in the ongoing dispute " including ethnic ties across borders, international relations and concerns about illegal immigration.
Myanmar's military authorities are cracking down with increasing severity on daily protests against their 1 February coup, with at least 70 people killed according to the UN's top rights expert on the country.
Since then, a growing stream of people have crossed over the border into Mizoram. Many of those who have crossed over are police personnel refusing to take part in the crackdown against protesters.
"The reason to come over from Myanmar to India is because I don't want to serve under the military junta," an officer, who didn't want to be identified, told AFP.
"The second reason is that if I quit from the military junta and I join with the people, I believe we can win the fight against the military junta," he said.
He added that the authorities were conducting "beating or torturing as they want".
At least 180 people have been killed in Myanmar since the military coup, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners monitoring group, as the junta has cracked down on relentless democracy rallies across the country.
Cross-border ethnic ties
Mizoram shares a 510 km long unfenced and porous border with Myanmar's Chin state. Officials said on Monday that nearly 600 people from Myanmar have entered Mizoram after the military coup in February. Most refugees belonged to the Chin communities, they were quoted as saying by PTI.
Several parts of Mizoram and Manipur also have Chin communities, who share ethnic ties with community members across the border.
India and Myanmar have an agreement named the Free Movement Regime, which allows locals from both sides of the border to go to the other side for up to 16 kilometres and up to 14 days. However, as noted in an article in The Indian Express, thousands of people regularly cross the border for work and to meet relatives, often unofficially and for longer periods. On several occasions, marriages are also arranged across the border.
'Can't turn blind eye', says Mizoram CM
It is little surprise, therefore, that political leaders in Mizoram have urged the Centre to sympathetically consider the cause of refugees fleeing the crackdown. On 18 March, the state's chief minister Zoramthanga wrote a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, informing him that Mizoram cannot remain indifferent to the plights and suffering of the Chin communities in Myanmar, who share the same ancestry and ethnicity with the Mizos.
India cannot 'turn a blind eye' to the humanitarian crisis, he had said in the letter. He had also said that the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) advisories directing four Northeastern states, including Mizoram, to check illegal influx of people from Myanmar and to immediately initiate the deportation process of illegal migrants was 'not acceptable' to Mizoram.
On the same day, a delegation from Mizoram led by Lok Sabha member C Lalrosanga also met Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Nityanand Rai, urging the Centre to provide food and shelter to the Myanmar nationals in Mizoram.
On Monday as well, Zoramthanga raised the issue while speaking to a foreign news outlet and leaders of Chin Churches in the United States via video conference. He said, "It is our responsibility as human beings to provide food and shelter on humanitarian grounds to our human fellows (Myanmar nationals), who have taken refuge in our state in the wake of political turmoil following the military coup in their country."
He, however, said that the state government has 'no say' in international affairs and can't deal with the refugees on its own and the matter rests with the Centre.
The Centre, on its part, has asked the northeastern states of Mizoram, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland to maintain strict vigil to prevent the influx of people from across the border.
As noted by an article in Livemint, the Centre has also noted that state governments and Union Territory (UT) administrations have no power to grant "refugee" status to any foreigner as India is not a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention of 1951 and its 1967 Protocol.
However, with political leaders from Mizoram calling for a humanitarian view, it appears that the Union government is faced with a delicate balancing act.
With inputs from agencies