AGARTALA: The latest initiative to send the Bru refugees living in relief camps in north Tripura back to Mizoram failed, as only 171 families of the targeted 4,447 returned to their homeland, officials said on Saturday when the repatriation came to an end.
The fate of around 32,000 inmates remaining in the camps now hangs in balance. The officials said free ration was distributed to the inmates of the camps at Kanchanpur and Panisagar sub-divisions for the last time on Saturday as, according to government instructions, it would be stopped from Sunday.
Altogether 4,447 displaced Bru families were scheduled to return to neighbouring Mizoram from where they started fleeing since 1997 following ethnic clashes.
However, only around 844 members of 171 families moved back to Mizoram till November 22 during the exercise, the officials said adding that the figure is being updated.
"This ninth round of repatriation began on October 3 and ended today. It has been considered the last round. But, like the previous rounds, this one too failed to take the displaced people back to Mizoram," an official said.
"A pall of gloom has descended in the camps following the government's announcement that no ration would be supplied to the inmates from tomorrow," Mizoram Bru Displaced People's Forum general secretary Bruno," Bruno Msha said.
"We have not received any information from the Centre, or from the governments of Tripura or Mizoram about what would happen to us," Msha told reporters.
He said they would hold meetings to find out the next course of action. "Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb had written to the Centre saying it could accommodate up to 500 families in the state if adequate funds were sanctioned for the cause. We have not received any official information on what had happened after that," Msha said.
He said the Bru refugees had also urged the Centre to restart its subsistence allowances but there was no intimation on the request so far.
Sub-divisional Magistrate (SDM) of Kanchanpur, Abhedananda Baidya said, "We have not received any information from the higher authorities regarding our next course of action. We are also waiting for it." He said only around 110 families comprising 601 members from Hazacherra, Naishingpara ad Ashapara camps of Kachanpur sub-division have been repatriated to Mizoram's Lunglei, Kolasib and in Mamit district.
The SDM of Panisagar, Lalnunnemi Darlong, said, "Till November 22, only 243 members of 61 families have returned to Mizoram. We are updating the data." BJP leader and Member of Parliament from East Tripura, Rebatimohan Tripura, said he has taken up the Bru issue with the Union Home Minister Amit Shah recently.
"It was decided that the Home Ministry will hold a meeting with the Mizoram government on the issue. The home minister has discussed the issue with our chief minister. We are hopeful that something positive would come out," Tripura told reporters.
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) had discontinued its allowances, including ration supplies and cash dole, to the Bru refugees from September 30.
However, following claims of starvation deaths of six people in the refugee camps and over a week-long road blockade by the displaced families, the state government decided upon providing free ration to them earlier this month.
The vexed Bru issue started from September 1997, following demands of a separate autonomous district council by carving out areas of western Mizoram adjoining Bangladesh and Tripura.
The situation was aggravated by the murder of a forest guard in the Dampa Tiger Reserve in western Mizoram by Bru National Liberation Front insurgents on October 21 that year.
The first attempt to repatriate the Brus from Tripura was made in November 2009. The Centre, along with the governments of Tripura and Mizoram, had been trying to repatriate them to their home state over the past one decade, with little success.
Several Bru families have refused to return to Mizoram, citing security concerns and inadequate rehabilitation package.
Some have also sought a separate autonomous council for the community. The Centre promised to deposit Rs 4 lakh in the bank account of every repatriated family, along with a sum of Rs 1.5 lakh as housing assistance, free ration and Rs 5,000 per month for a period of two years.