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COVID-19 cases add to Mizoram’s Myanmar refugee crisis

Army deserters and lawmakers among at least 15,500 people who have crossed over as civil disobedience movement rages in the neighbouring country

The death of a Myanmar national in State capital Aizawl and COVID-19 infection among scores of others in a few districts has added to the refugee crisis in Mizoram.

Almost a third of more than 15,500 Myanmar nationals who fled a military crackdown since the coup on February 1 are in Aizawl. One of them died at a COVID-19 centre in Aizawl on Wednesday, the 30th in the State due to infection by the novel coronavirus since May 2020.

The Mizoram government has been caught in a Catch-22 situation. It can neither ignore a March 10 order from the Ministry of Home Affairs to not let the refugees in nor prevent locals from providing accommodating and assisting the Myanmar nationals.

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“The virus does not check nationality before striking. Taking care of infected refugees in the districts is necessary for containment, but the hands of the government are tied because of the Centre’s orders,” H. Rammawi, vice-chairman of Mizoram’s State Planning Board, said.

“COVID-19 cases have complicated the situation as more and more people are coming in to escape the escalating conflict in Myanmar. Local NGOs and individuals are providing assistance to the refugees out of humanitarian concern,” he told The Hindu.

Some of those who crossed over are deserters from the Myanmar army and members of their families. The others include police and fire service personnel, government officials, lawmakers and political leaders, engineers and activists of a few NGOs.

After the coup: On political crisis in Myanmar

The refugees belong to the Chin community, ethnically related to the dominant Mizos of Mizoram and the Kuki-Zomi people in Manipur.

Mr. Rammawi said the refugees had been trickling in since February along the porous, hilly 510 km border between Mizoram and Myanmar. They began arriving in large numbers on May 13 after martial law was declared in northwest Myanmar’s Mindat town about 100 km from the Mizoram border.

Using artillery and helicopters against the newly-formed Chinland Defence Force that joined the civil disobedience movement, the Myanmar army advanced into the town on May 18 after battling the ragtag militia of the Chin people.

“The situation there is very dangerous. It is a matter of life and death for the local people who have nowhere else to go. We have been asking the government of India to help us in providing food, shelter and medicine to the refugees, but there has been no response till date,” Mr. Rammawi said.

Officials in Mizoram said they had been asked to coordinate with the External Affairs Ministry, which was yet to get back.

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