Uncertainty dogs 35,000 tribal refugees in Tripura
Agartala/Aizawl, February 27
Despite fresh initiatives by the central and Tripura governments, the repatriation to Mizoram of about 35,000 tribal refugees sheltered in Tripura for over 17 years still hangs in balance.
Refugee leaders told Home Minister Rajnath Singh and his deputy Kiren Rijiju recently that they were willing to return to their homes in Mizoram if their 10 demands, including security and rehabilitation, were met.
The Mizoram government remains ambiguous on the refugees’ demands, including free supply of food grain for two years and allotment of land to them. The demands have also run into objections from Mizos.
Tripura and Mizoram share a 109-km border.The immigrants live in small thatched homes made of bamboo and hemp in seven transitory relief camps in Kanchanpur in northern Tripura, adjoining Mizoram. Most adult men and women sit idle through the day.
After meeting the refugee leaders at Kanchanpur in northern Tripura, the central ministers and officials met Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar in Agartala.
The meeting remained inconclusive as Mizoram Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla did not attend it.
About 35,000 Reang tribals, who call themselves “Bru”, have lived in seven camps in Tripura since October 1997 after fleeing western Mizoram after the killing of a Mizo forest officer triggered ethnic troubles.
Reangs are officially categorised a primitive tribe.
The Mizoram Bru Displaced People’s Forum submitted a six-page memorandum to the central ministers accusing the Mizoram government of discriminating against them.
“We are ready to go back to our homes in Mizoram. But before that the Mizoram and central governments must implement our demands,” its general secretary Bruno Msha told IANS.
Rajnath Singh said in Tripura that he had requested the refugees to go back to Mizoram, saying they would be provided all assistance.
“I believe they are ready to go back to their homes,” he added. “I believe the Mizoram government will extend all help and assistance to the refugees.”
When IANS reminded Rajnath Singh about the many inconclusive efforts aimed at resolving the refugee issue, the minister sounded confident: “The problem will be resolved.”
A Mizoram home department official told IANS in Aizawl that Chief Lal Thanhawla felt that those refugees who have refused to return to Mizoram despite concerted efforts should be settled in Tripura.
Home ministry officials met officers from Tripura and Mizoram in New Delhi Jan 30 and finalised a roadmap to repatriate the refugees by June 2015.
“The Tripura government will provide all logistical help if Mizoram takes back the refugees,” Tripura Relief and Rehabilitation Department Additional Secretary Karnamani Das told IANS. Das represented Tripura in New Delhi.
Mizoram Home Minister R. Lalzirliana has warned that refugees who refuse to return following the next repatriation attempts would be disfranchised as Mizoram voters.
“The decision was taken in New Delhi recently,” Lalzirliana said.
The central government took the initiative to repatriate the refugees in view of the Supreme Court directions Jan 16.
Following a Tripura High Court order, the union home ministry last year set up a seven-member panel headed by Rajiv Gauba, an additional secretary, to oversee the condition of the refugees in the Tripura camps.
The central team submitted its report to the Tripura High Court.
The refugees say they should be treated like Kashmiri pundits.
But the Mizo Students Federation argues that the Reang tribals were not refugees in the first place and so can never be compared with the Kashmiri Pundits.
“We have documentary evidence that they migrated en masse to Tripura because of their political aspirations,” said a Mizo leader, Lalhmachhuana.
The Young Mizo Association, the largest Mizo youth organisation, has taken a dim view of the refugees’ demands.
Some NGOs in Mizoram want that the names of the tribals who refuse to return home should be deleted from electoral lists.
Tripura Revenue and Relief Minister Badal Choudhury said: “A serious socio-economic problem has cropped up due to the long stay of the refugees in Tripura.” “The refugees have damaged vast areas in forests in Kanchanpur causing serious environmental problems. “Some refugees are involved in terrorism activities. The refugees also work for cheap wages, creating an awkward situation for local labourers,” Choudhury told IANS.