Blurred Lines

Mizoram’s uncertain efforts to provide sanctuary to Chin refugees

Artillery strikes by the Burmese army destroyed over a hundred and sixty buildings in Thantlang, a town in Chin State, on 29 October 2021. STR / AFP / GETTY IMAGES
31 March, 2023

AS WE TRUNDLED DOWNHILL along the treacherous dirt track, made muddy by rain, I wondered how those routinely negotiating this path did not lose their mental bearings—or a few spinal discs. Our Mizo driver was nonchalant, piloting our pickup truck with ease. Peering through the foliage running along the trail, we saw neat rows of hutments, with green asbestos roofs, sprawled over a stretch of low hills. We could also see a river snaking through the valley.

The ten-kilometre trail originates in Farkawn, a village in Mizoram’s Champhai district, and snakes downhill to the Tiau River, which forms the border with Myanmar. It is frequented, among others, by Mizo sand miners and members of the Chin community—one of the eight national races recognised by the Burmese government. Under the free-movement regime devised by the governments of India and Myanmar, in 2018, people living within sixteen kilometres of the border can cross over without travel documents.

Forty-five minutes after leaving Farkawn, we finally reached the end of the trail. A swing bridge made of ropes and wood, swaying almost indistinguishably with the wind, connected the banks of the muddy river. I could see signs of human habitation on the other side, including a small check post and a few people ambling around in military fatigues. That, I recognised, was rebel territory.

On the morning of 10 January, four months after my visit, Burmese jets pounded this valley with bombs. Their target was Camp Victoria, the general headquarters of the Chin National Front and its armed wing, the Chin National Army. Ever since the coup d’état of February 2021, the CNF has been part of a nationwide coalition resisting the military regime in Myanmar. According to a statement issued by the National Unity Government, a parallel civilian administration, five people were killed in the airstrike. When the jets returned the following day, the NUG added, they destroyed the camp’s clinic.