As Burmese refugees pour across border, India plans to build camps

Manipur state has seen 10,000 refugees flood into the area, fleeing fighting.
By RFA Burmese
2023.03.29
As Burmese refugees pour across border, India plans to build camps Myanmar refugees in India meet with Manipur state officials in Moreh township on March 26, 2023.
Credit: Citizen journalist

India is preparing to build temporary refugee camps at its eastern border for more than 10,000 Burmese who have fled recent fighting in Myanmar’s Chin state and Sagaing region.

Indian members of parliament and Manipur state government officials – traveling in about 40 cars on March 26 – visited the villages where refugees have been taking shelter in Moreh township, refugees said.

The officials told refugees they plan to build three or four camps across the border from the Myanmar town of Tamu and about two miles away from the Indian town of Moreh. Each camp will be able to house about 5,000 refugees, and refugees will be required to stay in the camps – not in nearby Indian villages, one refugee told Radio Free Asia on condition of anonymity..

The Manipur state government has formed a subcommittee consisting of state government ministers to coordinate the building of the camps, India-based news outlets reported. Refugees said Manipur officials told them they would have to return to their homes if the situation in Myanmar stabilizes.

But one refugee said the site may be too close to the Myanmar border.

“The perpetrators can come in and attack due to its location,” the person said. “It would be a different story if the Indian authorities could guarantee security. Otherwise, Myanmar junta forces can come to that location at any moment.”

Terms of plan still unclear

The Indian government must not only guarantee the safety of the refugees, but it should also allow humanitarian aid from international and other organizations without any constraints, said Salai Dokhar, the founder of India For Myanmar, which assists Myanmar refugees in India.

“Will there be free access for the international and civil aid organizations to help the refugees?” he asked. “Will the Indian government directly provide humanitarian assistance to the refugees? Since these important points have not been included in their explanation, we are still in a position of looking into the plan.”

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State officials of Manipur, India, meet with Myanmar refugees in Moreh township on March 26, 2023. Credit: Citizen journalist

Among those who fled to Manipur, there are about 50 members of the Civil Disobedience Movement, according to aid workers. The movement has seen tens of thousands of Myanmar’s government employees leave their jobs in protest of the military’s February 2021 coup

One CDM member said the refugees would be safer in Manipur if they were issued refugee recognition cards and allowed to live in villages instead of refugee camps.

“We will be more in favor of the plan if the location of the camps is moved further from the border line,” the CDM member said. 

If refugees “build houses as neat as they can and spend their own money, they would be on good terms with the Indian village chiefs,” he said. 

In recent months, Manipur police have arrested at least 170 Myanmar refugees who were sheltering in villages along the border in Moreh township. Those refugees would be released and allowed to live in the temporary refugee camp once it is built, according to refugees who spoke with members of the Manipur government subcommittee.

RFA contacted the Indian Embassy in Yangon and the Myanmar Embassy in Delhi through emails regarding the opening of a temporary refugee camp for Myanmar refugees in Manipur, but didn’t immediately receive a reply.

Translated by Myo Min Aung. Edited by Matt Reed and Malcolm Foster.

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