“We are afraid to go back”: Refugees from Myanmar seek shelter and hope in Mizoram

31 December 2021
A police officer who fled from Myanmar following the military coup looks out to the mountains from an undisclosed location in Mizoram. The Mizoram government estimates that around fourteen thousand Myanmar refugees are seeking shelter in the state.
ANUPAM NATH / AP PHOTO
A police officer who fled from Myanmar following the military coup looks out to the mountains from an undisclosed location in Mizoram. The Mizoram government estimates that around fourteen thousand Myanmar refugees are seeking shelter in the state.
ANUPAM NATH / AP PHOTO


“There was shooting in the village, bullets were flying through the window, so we had to hide under the sofa,” Ngunchhan, a 57-year-old refugee from Myanmar told me. Ngunchhan is one of the many refugees who fled to India following a military coup in Myanmar in February 2021. “When it got a little quiet, we ran to the forest. We did not even eat a meal before we left, we were too scared,” she continued. “Since my husband is no more, me and my daughter were afraid of what they might do to us, we did not carry anything with us. We just ran away.”

 I met Ngunchhan in Thekte, one of the last villages in Mizoram before the Indo-Myanmar border. It takes around ten hours by car from Aizawl, the capital of Mizoram, to Thekte. The village has over six hundred residents. Along with some of its neighbouring towns, it has become a safe haven for those fleeing Myanmar. According to Reuters, the Myanmar military has killed at least a thousand people and arrested thousands in a crackdown aimed at crushing local resistance to the coup. In May, a United Nations spokesperson estimated that around four thousand to six thousand refugees have fled into India from Myanmar following the coup. In December, the Mizoram government estimated that around fourteen thousand Myanmar nationals are seeking shelter in different parts of the state.

 The refugees are currently reliant on donations from individuals, churches and human-rights organisations for their daily needs. The Central Young Mizo Association, or YMA, a leading non-profit in Mizoram, has been taking the lead in gathering volunteers to build makeshift shelters for the refugees and providing them daily essentials, including food and clothing, with the support of donations.

 On my second day in Thekte, the leader of a non-profit arranged for me to meet several refugees in the village. I met them as they sat huddled on the floor and bare wooden benches at a local’s home. Thangchhina, a refugee from Lungding in Myanmar, was the first person to share his experience. He told me that on the morning of 25 March, some people started announcing that the military had come to their village. “As soon as my wife came to know that the military was in our village, she started palpitating and had a panic attack,” he said. “She has a lung ailment. I was worried, I started to realise that, even if they do not attack us, in this situation she will die very soon. So as soon as my wife became calm, we quickly ate our last meal and left our house.” Thangchhina described how they escaped. “We do not have a vehicle so we walked through the jungle with our two children, who are seven and twelve years old,” he continued. “We reached the Tiau River and crossed the border on foot. We walked all day, we started at 9 am Myanmar time and reached this village at 9.30 pm India time. We had to take a longer route to avoid the military. Sometimes I had to carry my children on my back, as they were very tired. As soon as we reached Thekte, we asked for food from the first house we saw, because my children were very hungry.”

 Thangchhina further spoke about what he envisioned for their future. “What we want right now is to be able to go to get asylum in foreign countries,” he said. As soon as he said these words, the room came alive with laughter. In that dim room, the idea of receiving asylum in a foreign country was so far from the imagination of those seated around him that, to them, it seemed like a light joke. He added that he had heard that refugees can be sent to other countries. “So I want to go to Australia or USA, please send us also,” he said. “If we cannot go, people have to take care of us all the time.”

Kimi Colney is a reporting fellow at The Caravan.

Keywords: Myanmar Mizoram Young Mizo Association refugees
COMMENT