Amidst uncertainty of repatriation of over 31,000 Reang tribal refugees, living in Tripura for the past 19 years, Mizoram government officials on Wednesday began their identification.
“A 30-member team of Mizoram government officials led by the state’s Mamit district Deputy Commissioner Lalbiaksangi arrived in north Tripura on Tuesday and from Wednesday they started the identification process,” Sub-Divisional Magistrate of Kanchanpur Sub-Division Santosh Deb said.
He said: “The identification process would continue till November 21. After that the schedule of repatriation of refugees from Tripura to Mizoram would be finalised.”
About 31,300 Reang tribals, who locally call themselves ‘Bru’, have been living in seven makeshift camps in North Tripura’s Kanchanpur and Panisagar sub-divisions adjoining Mizoram since October 1997 after they fled their homes in western Mizoram following ethnic violence in the Northeastern state.
Despite several initiatives by the Mizoram government to bring them back, the refugees have been reluctant to go back to their villages unless their demands for food and security are met.
Refugees’ apex body, Mizoram Bru Displaced People’s Forum (MBDPF), has been insisting that three teams of their organisations want to visit three Mizoram districts — Mamit, Lunglei and Kolasib – to see the situation there as the tribal refuges would be rehabilitated in these three districts after the repatriation.
“We have sent a letter to Union Home Ministry’s Special Secretary (Internal Security), Mahesh Kumar Singla, on October 18 to ask the Mizoram government to arrange the visit of the MBDPF leaders.
“We are yet to get any response from the MHA. How can the refugees return to Mizoram without seeing the local situation in those villages,” MBDPF general secretary Bruno Msha said.
He said the MBDPF has submitted 14 points demands to the MHA. The demands include allotment of five hectares of land to each tribal family, undertake special development plan for the backward tribals and provide adequate security to the repatriated refugees.
The refugee leader said the Home Ministry agreed to give each refugee family housing assistance of Rs.38,500, cash assistance of Rs.41,500, free rations for two years, blanket and utensils, while Mizoram would reimburse their transportation cost.
The ministry also verbally agreed to extend Rs.1.3 lakh housing scheme under Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana to each family, said the MBDPF leader, but added he was doubtful about the repatriation in the near future.
Kanchanpur Sub-Divisional Magistrate said that the Tripura government would provide the logistical support when the repatriation of refugees starts.
A high-level meeting held on October 17 at the Union Home Ministry in New Delhi, discussed in depth the repatriation of the tribal refugees.
MHA’s Special Secretary (Internal Security) Mahesh Kumar Singla presided over the meeting where senior officials from the MHA, Tripura and Mizoram government and MBDPF leaders were present.
A Tripura government’s official said that the Mizoram government officials wanted to start the repatriation from January 2017 instead of pre-scheduled November as the Union government had urged.
The Mizoram officials also remained non-committal to the refugee leaders’ desire to visit the proposed sites where the tribals would be rehabilitated after being repatriated.
The MHA officials recently visited Tripura and Mizoram and held a series of meetings with the officials of both governments and tribal leaders over the repatriation.
The measures came in wake of the Supreme Court’s directives about the repatriation, and the roadmap submitted by Mizoram on how it plans to rehabilitate the displaced people.
Mizoram Home Minister R. Lalzirliana said in Aizawl earlier this week that the state government would not concede the demands of the MBDPF as a pre-condition of the refugees’ repatriation.
“It would also be impossible for the state government to allot the five hectares of land to each repatriated tribal family. Authority to allot land is not vested with the state, but with the village councils.
“The repatriated refugee families also would have to wait for allocation of land for construction of houses and for farming in accordance with the guidelines of their respective village councils,” the minister said while addressing a meeting of ruling Congress party workers.
Meanwhile, the Tripura government has been asking the Union and Mizoram governments to repatriate the refugees at the earliest as serious socio-economic and law and order problems have cropped up in the state.