Tribal refugees averse to repatriation unless demands are met

Agartala (IANS): Over 32,850 Mizoram tribals staying in refugee camps in Tripura for the past 21 years are averse to return to their homes unless their demands for allotment of land for cultivation and security are met, officials said here on Saturday.

A meeting between senior officials of the Union Home Ministry, Tripura and Mizoram governments, and leaders of the refugees was held here on Friday evening to evolve ways and means to repatriate the tribal refugees to their home in neighbouring Mizoram.

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“The refugee leaders told the meeting that they would not return to their homes unless their demands for allotment of land for cultivation, security, cash assistance of Rs 10 lakh per family among others were met by the government,” an official of Tripura’s revenue department said.

The official said the Home Ministry’s Joint Secretary (North-East) Satyendra Garg informed the meeting that the package which was earlier announced by the MHA was the maximum possible on the part of the Central government.

“The refugees’ demands submitted to the Central government and the Supreme Court for allotment of five hectare of land is absolutely impossible. Relief camps are not villages, the government had already taken the decision to close down these camps in the near future,” the official quoted the home ministry official as saying.

The MHA official also said that the government would file an application in the Supreme Court for closing the refugee camps in northern Tripura and dismissing the writ petition filed by the Mizoram Bru Displaced People’s Forum (MBDPF).

MHA Special Secretary (Internal Security) Rina Mitra told the meeting that the Reang tribals did not deserve Central Security Forces for their protection. She said that the Central government may be compelled to take drastic steps which could have dire consequences if the displaced tribals did not accept the government package and return to Mizoram.

The Mizoram government’s Additional Secretary (Home) Lalbiakzama said that his government had extended the maximum facilities and logistical support to the repatriated refugees earlier.

Lalbiakzama said that the 1,600 families that had been repatriated earlier were living peacefully. He also warned the refugee representatives not to voice any complaint against the Mizoram government.

About 32,857 Reang tribals comprising 5,413 families — known as ‘Bru’ — have been living in the 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 trouble in that state.

The Tripura government’s Principal Secretary (Revenue) Manoj Kumar said that Tripura can no longer keep the displaced tribals as the state government was facing difficulties with the relief camps.

MBDPF General Secretary Bruno Msha and President A. Sawibunga, who led the delegation of refugee leaders at Friday’s meeting, told IANS that the Central and Mizoram government officials have totally ruled out all the legitimate demands raised by the MBDPF.

The demands of the MBDPF include allotment of five hectare of land to each family for cultivation, formation of a cluster of villages comprising not less than 500 families with basic amenities like education, healthcare, drinking water facilities, road communication, electricity.

They also demand collective security for themselves by the central para-military forces, cash assistance amounting to Rs 10 lakh to each family as compensation and Rs 5 lakh for construction of houses.

Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and other officials have visited the refugee camps in north Tripura and Mizoram many times and urged both the Mizoram government and the refugees to end the stalemate.

The Supreme Court had earlier directed the Home Ministry and the Mizoram and Tripura governments to jointly work for the return of these tribal refugees to their home state.

“We are ready to return to our homes, but the Mizoram government is reluctant to meet our basic demands, like allotment of land for cultivation,” refugee leader Bruno Msha told IANS.

Earlier, Mizoram Home Minister R. Lalzirliana said that the state government will not concede the MBDPF’s pre-conditions for the refugees’ repatriation.

“It will be impossible for the Mizoram government to allot five hectares of land to each tribal family. The repatriated families will 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 told the media.