Authorities in northeast India’s state of Manipur have detained at least 170 refugees from villages along the border with Myanmar since the start of the year, according to the refugees and an aid group, causing others to shelter in the jungle or return home to avoid arrest.
Salai Dokhar, the founder of India For Myanmar, a group assisting Myanmar refugees, told RFA Burmese that a special commando group arrested the 170 refugees in January and February during door-to-door raids on 17 villages in Moreh township’s Lawngtlai district.
“The Indian authorities have been searching and collecting population data in each and every house for about a month. We think that they have a plan to do something once they have the statistics,” said Dokhar.
“Since they are checking the household members with the list they have, many people have fled. Many war-torn refugee schools have been closed. We are having such difficulties. News has spread that there are more arrests as well.”
Since the Feb. 1, 2021, military coup in Myanmar, more than 60,000 people have crossed the border into India, according to India for Myanmar. More than 10,000 are in Manipur.
Indian authorities have repeatedly targeted the refugees, the organization says, noting that the operation was the fifth time in two years police had sought to detain them.
No safe harbor
The latest efforts to arrest the refugees forced many to seek shelter in the jungle and even cross the border into Sagaing region’s Tamu township, where they face becoming victims of the post-coup conflict in Myanmar, Dokhar told RFA.
According to India for Myanmar, the 170 refugees have been held in Manipur’s Imphal Prison since their arrest. The group said it is compiling a list of those arrested so far in March.
A Myanmar national in Manipur, who refused to be named for security reasons, told RFA that Indian authorities have ordered village administrators in the state not to accept Myanmar refugees.
“Village chiefs ask [the refugees] to flee as they can’t help them when the authorities come to arrest them. Therefore, the refugees dare not stay in the temporary shelters they have built and flee when [the police] come,” he said.
“When [the police] find empty shelters, they ask why they are empty, whether they were the homes of Myanmar refugees, and the owners’ whereabouts. They order the village chiefs not to let the refugees stay and to drive them back to where they came from.”
‘A helpless situation’
Another refugee in Moreh, who also declined to be named, told RFA that although they had fled to India for safety from Myanmar, they have been struggling to earn a living at the same time they are being hunted by the authorities.
“We fled here to save our lives as our native place in our country is too dangerous to live in. But it’s too difficult to make a living here. We have to look for random jobs for wages,” they said.
“We came here for safety but the Indian authorities arrested us here, too, and some of us have even died … refugees like us are in a helpless situation.”
Lann Kho Chun, a 32-year-old ethnic Kuki-Chin refugee from Myanmar, died suddenly on Feb. 25 while in custody in Imphal Prison. His case remains under investigation.
Aid workers told RFA that the conditions at Imphal are poor and refugees held there are in need of medical care and other assistance.
‘We are going to return’
One worker condemned the Manipur government’s “lack of humanity,” noting that the refugees “didn’t leave our country for fun.”
“The military junta rules our country lawlessly and citizens like us have to flee here from their atrocities as we do not want to die. But if we have to face more dangers here, our lives won’t be worthwhile anymore,” the worker said.
“We don’t want to live here forever. Once the situation in Myanmar is back to a stable condition, we are going to return.”
Attempts by RFA to contact the Myanmar Embassy in New Delhi and the Indian Embassy in Yangon regarding the arrest of refugees went unanswered Friday.
The arrests come as Lt. Gen. Soe Win, the junta’s deputy chairman, and the Indian Ambassador to Myanmar, Vinay Kumar, held a meeting on March 7 in Myanmar’s capital, Naypyidaw, where they discussed issues related to stability and cooperation in the Myanmar-India border region, according to a recent announcement by the junta.
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