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Myanmar instability hampers India's effort to deport refugees

By News   Desk

The ongoing conflict between Myanmar's rebel forces and the ruling military junta has stalled India's plans to repatriate undocumented refugees who fled across the border into the northeastern state of Manipur following the 2021 coup, Indian security officials stated.

Thousands of civilians and hundreds of troops from Myanmar have sought refuge in India after the February 2021 military takeover that ousted Aung San Suu Kyi's democratically elected government. Many crossed over due to ethnic and familial ties straddling the porous India-Myanmar border.

Last month, authorities in Manipur had announced intentions to deport at least 77 refugees who had entered India without proper documentation through the border town of Moreh after the coup. However, the repatriation process has hit a roadblock.

"Thirty-eight were taken (from Imphal, the state capital) to Moreh, but we are waiting for communication from Myanmar authorities to take them back," a senior police official said on condition of anonymity, citing the sensitive nature of the matter.

The delay is attributed to the unstable security situation within Myanmar, particularly in the Tamu region near the Indian border, where intense fighting between the junta and rebel groups has taken place.

"This is because the Myanmar government is not stable, especially at the Tamu area," another senior police official explained, adding that the refugees might face forcible deportation if Myanmar fails to facilitate their return.

Since the 2021 coup, simmering public anger has fueled a nationwide armed resistance movement that has increasingly coordinated with established ethnic rebel outfits to challenge the military's control across large swathes of the country.

The junta has lost ground in frontier areas along the borders with Bangladesh, China, and India since October last year, as the conflict has intensified.

India's efforts to repatriate the undocumented refugees underscore the complexities posed by the volatile situation in Myanmar and the challenges in managing the influx of displaced people across the international border.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government has cited the refugee crisis as one factor fueling the ethnic violence that has gripped Manipur since May 2022, claiming at least 220 lives. Authorities have vowed to end the decades-old policy of visa-free movement for border residents and plan to erect fencing along the 1,650-km (1,000-mile) frontier with Myanmar.