Refugees pushed back after Myanmar 'back off'

A total of 219 refugees belonging to Rakhine tribe were pushed back from Mizoram on Wednesday. DH Photo

A total of 219 refugees belonging to Rakhine tribe were pushed back from Mizoram on Wednesday after Myanmar authorities reportedly backed off from its promise made on June 30 and did not turn up to receive them at the border.

“It was planned to send them through the Sekulh Lui river as Myanmar authorities had promised that they will send some boats to take them back. But we had to use cars to push them into Myanmar as they backed off from their promise they made in a flag meeting on June 30 and did not turn up to take them back,” said an official at Lawngtlai district, from where the refugees were pushed back.

Nearly 1,500 Buddhist Rakhine refugees had crossed the unfenced border in 2015 and had taken shelter following a clash between Myanmar army and Arakan Army, a militant group in the troubled Rakhine state. Most of the refugees had returned after being asked by Mizoram officials but 219 stayed back and refused to leave despite warnings.

A joint team of Lawngtlai district administration, Mizoram police and Assam Rifles personnel pushed back the refugees following an instruction from the union ministry of home affairs. Similar efforts to send them back by Mizoram government failed reportedly due to lack of co-operation from Myanmar authorities.

Although Myanmar’s refusal to accept the Muslim Rohingya refugees taking shelter in neighbouring Bangladesh is known for long, its “non-cooperation” to take back the Buddhist tribal Rakhine refugees confused many in Mizoram.

Lawngtlai is a district surrounded by Myanmar and Bangladesh and is prone to infiltration as the border has remained mostly unfenced. The district administration, however, sealed a portion of the border after the refugees were pushed back on Wednesday to prevent them from coming back.

The district administration dismantled the bamboo huts constructed by the refugees in Hmawngbuchhua village close to the border. The refugees, however, were provided ration and other basic supplies.

“It was extremely tough for us to take little children and women out of their huts and send them, it’s a pain I’ll never forget. But the law of the land prevails. I really wish that the refugees find greener pastures in their own country and God gives them the strength to sustain what’s ahead of them,” Lawngtlai deputy commissioner, Shashanka Ala said in his Facebook post.

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