GUWAHATI: Among the three Indian states -- Nagaland, Mizoram and Manipur -- that share a border with Myanmar, the last named is not in the direct line of sight of Rohingyas fleeing the violence unleashed against them in that country. Yet it is Manipur that has sounded an alert for an influx of Rohingya refugees across its 385 km long porous border with the neighbouring country.
Official sources say not a single Rohingya has infiltrated into Manipur so far but chief minister N Biren Singh confirmed said an alert has been sounded across the state including the six border districts of Ukhrul, Chandel, Churachandpur, Kamjong, Tengnoupal and Pherzawl – to thwart any possible infiltration.
“The alert has been sounded as they might try and infiltrate via Nagaland and Assam. We already have 25 Rohingyas languishing in our jails,” he said.
Assam does not share a border with Myanmar but the Manipur CM’s apparent perception is that Rohingyas could infiltrate into Assam from Bangladesh and from there into Manipur.
Fifteen of the 25 Rohingyas lodged in Manipur jails -- arrested over several years for trespass -- have already served their jail terms and are awaiting deportation. New Delhi did seek to deport them but ran up against resistance from Yangon, which said it has no records of the 15 individuals ever having been citizens of Myanmar.
In contrast to Manipur’s preemptive action, Mizoram, which is closer to Rakhine state in Myanmar where the Rohingyas live, has taken no such evasive action. “We haven’t sounded any alert for we don’t think the Rohingyas will infiltrate into our state. The Mizos of Myanmar do visit Mizoram to meet relatives but that is not a problem for us,” Mizoram’s home minister Lalzirliana told New Indian Express.
There are a sizeable number of Mizos across the border inside Myanmar. As per an agreement between India and Myanmar, people on either side can travel up to 15 km from the international border and stay for some time.
Geographically, Mizoram is closer to Rakhine but road travel by the Monywa-Kalaywa highway will take one faster to Moreh in Manipur than to any border town in Mizoram. Moreh is approximately 746 km from Rakhine via the Monywa-Kalaywa highway while the distance is over 1,000 km to any border town in Mizoram.
It is perceived that the fleeing Rohingyas will not further risk their lives by attempting to infiltrate into Manipur, Mizoram or Nagaland as they are likely to receive a hostile reception. Signalling that hostility, Tripura governor Tathagata Roy recently tweeted: “And what is this yakking about Rohingya ‘genocide’? By all estimates some hundreds have died, mostly by drowning at sea…”
According to media reports, the Rohingyas are fleeing to Bangladesh by sea. The road distance between Rakhine and Cox Bazar in Bangladesh is over 1,700 km.
Historically termed Arakanese Indians, the Rohingyas are stateless Sunni Muslims. There were an estimated ten lakh Rohingyas living in Rakhine state in Myanmar before the latest crisis. In 2013, the UN described them as the most persecuted minority in the world. They are denied citizenship under the 1982 Burmese citizenship law which does not recognize them as one of the national races. Over the past three decades, they faced military crackdowns at least five times. Their migration to Myanmar from present day Bangladesh and West Bengal took place over centuries.