Myanmar refugees in Mizoram camps are a picture of resilience | Popgen Tech
Aizawl (Mizoram): On September 19, military helicopters attacked a school and a village in Myanmar, killing at least 13 people, including seven children.
Six days earlier, the Indian National Investigation Agency announced that it had seized explosives and cash in Mizoram that belonged to the Chin National Front (CNF), a constituent group of the democratic resistance to the military coup in Myanmar in February 2021.
Just before the 18-month anniversary of the coup, I went to Mizoram – where some 20,000 from Myanmar’s neighboring Chin province have sought asylum. Those who fled Myanmar after the Tatmataw coup, as the Myanmar military is called, are supporters of the National League for Democracy (NLD); some have campaigned for the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM).
Zawlsei is a refugee camp with about 70 women – in their 20s and 30s – and their young children, with only two men to watch over them. Hastily built on a patch of mud, the camp is surrounded by jungle and the accommodation consists of huts made of bamboo. Wires were stretched from the neighboring town to provide for salt bulbs and the water is stored in enormous 500-liter tanks.
Each hut has two rooms, a bedroom and a kitchen. The toilets are in a separate row on the upper terrace.
Pu AT is one of the two men guarding Zawlsei’s camp. The camp houses mostly women and children because their husbands and fathers, who are part of the People’s Defense Forces (PDF), have sent them to safety across the border.
A former member of the China Defense Force (CDF) who joined the armed resistance in late April 2021, seven weeks after the coup, Pu AT is a supporter of the National Unity Government (NUG) established by the NLD after the Tatmataw declared. that the results of the general elections in November 2020 were invalid and overthrow the civilian government.
The NUG is Myanmar’s government-in-exile which includes the Committee of Representatives Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH), a group of elected lawmakers and members of parliament who were dismissed in the 2021 Myanmar coup. It also has Suu Kyi’s NLD representative. The military junta, of course, considers the NUG illegal and has labeled it a terrorist organization.
“70% of the population supports the NUG and seven districts are under their control with the help of the PDF to oppose the Junta regime… Democracy will only return when the Myanmar army is defeated. Only then will there be democracy,” he said.
Pu AT feels it is necessary to guard this camp because the Tatmataw “take people hostage to finance their war”. He says he gave Kyat 15 lakhs to free his grandmother from state kidnappers. “But I don’t know where they are now,” he added.
Pu B., another guard at the camp, strongly believes that the PDF needs support from neighboring countries. The struggle saw horrific atrocities. He shows me a picture of a child who lives in a nearby camp, saying he lost his limb in the Tatmataw bombing.
“People are being bombed by Russian planes that were given to the Junta. Russia and China should stop giving weapons to the Myanmar Army,” Pu B. said.
Tatmataw must be defeated, and “for this to happen, the neighboring countries should give weapons to the PDF.” Countries like Thailand and Bangladesh have made it difficult for the PDF to get weapons, said Pu B. “I heard that India’s CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force) is also stopping weapons,” he added.
Pu B. is more than aware of geopolitical constraints and their effect on their situation. He says that Russia and China are also using their veto power in the UN Security Council against the NUG.
“We wanted the UNSC to pass a resolution stating that no country should give weapons to the Myanmar Army, but due to Russia and China’s veto, nothing happened,” he said.
The most affected children
Lian and Nora, an uncle and niece who fled Mizoram 12 days after the coup, live in a dormitory in Aizawl. Lian worked in the education department and joined the civil disobedience movement against the Tatmadaw coup.
Nora is a ninth grader.
Both Lian and Nora feel that the NLD has shifted its focus from a unitary state, to recognizing that Myanmar’s diverse ethnic groups require a federal constitution.
Lian feels that the problem has its roots in 2008.
“The problem goes back to the Myanmar Constitution of 2008 which reserves 25% of the seats in the Myanmar parliament for serving military officers. They should remove elements of the constitution that give military power sharing. Different provinces must provide autonomous rules,” he said.
Lian cited the federal democracy constitution that the NUG and ethical groups drafted in 2021 after the military coup. Its goals are to eliminate dictatorship, abolish the 2008 constitution, build a federal union and establish a public government “based on the civil servants who belong to the CDM and stand with the people during the movement against the military dictatorship,” Lian said. .
Nora is sad that even school children in Myanmar have become polarized. “Jun has a separate school system. While those who go to the junta system are looked down upon, others who go to NUG schools are labeled as CDMers,” Nora says.
Tatmadaw does not allow NUG schools to run.
“In some small towns, the Junta has also shut down the wi-fi… Even when teachers teach online, they don’t show their faces, or don’t tell their students their names for fear of being arrested,” says Lian.
Nora sent me a picture showing children crowded in a trench in Saglaing district, going to school.
Khawbung is a small town in Mizoram where Chin refugees live with Mizo families. The refugees created an organization – the Myanmar Refugee Community – to represent themselves. I met the head of the community office at Khawbung Higher Secondary School in the principal’s office.
Community representatives are disappointed that Myanmar’s neighbors are not doing what they asked to put pressure on the Tatmataw. A month after the coup, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) negotiated a five-point consensus, in April 2021, which called for an immediate end to the violence in Myanmar; dialogue between all stakeholders; the appointment of a special envoy from ASEAN to Myanmar; provision of humanitarian assistance by ASEAN; and a visit of the bloc’s special envoy to Myanmar to meet with all parties.
However, nothing of the kind has come so far.
“Elections will be meaningless if Aung San Suu Kyi is not released,” said Pu Zacung, president of Myanmar’s refugee community. “We hope that other countries are aware of the NUG and recognize it as the legitimate government of Myanmar, and the PDF as the legitimate army.”
Community representatives acknowledge that the return of democracy will take a long time. But they are prepared.
“As long as the military is there, we will not go back. said Pi Ngun Hoi, assistant treasurer of the Myanmar refugee community.
Sushila Sahay is a second year student at Bard College in the United States.
Note: I was fortunate to have the help of the Young Mizo Association (YMA) which is the largest non-profit, non-governmental organization of the Mizo people. I would particularly like to thank Anthony Lalramchhana of the Young Mizo Association, Joseph Go Suan Pau, H. Lalnunmawia, and Sangeeta Barooah Pisharoty for their support in helping the author reach and talk to Myanmar refugees in Mizoram.