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A Myanmar family flees to India with no plans to return soon

On Sept 8, the 51-year-old said her peaceful life in the
hilltop settlement ended suddenly when Myanmar’s military attacked and burned
down houses, forcing the family to flee and shelter in neighbouring India’s
Mizoram state.

Along with her husband, children, parents and an aunt, Mah
Tial now lives in a shack made of corrugated metal sheets and wood clinging to
a mountainside in Mizoram’s Farkawn village.

“I don’t think about going back to Myanmar soon, because
the condition inside the country is getting worse,” she said.

Myanmar was plunged into crisis when the military ousted the
civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb 1, triggering protests and
conflict in the countryside between anti-junta militia and the army.

Located in Myanmar’s Chin state, where an armed rebellion has
taken hold, Thantlang has seen repeated attacks by the military, also known as
the Tatmadaw, since early September, according to three former residents and a
rights group.

Myanmar’s military spokesperson did not respond to a request
for comment on recent events in Thantlang. The military has previously blamed
insurgents for instigating fighting and burning homes there, and brands them
terrorists.

Mah Tial’s family is among what a Mizoram lawmaker estimated
were around 15,000 Myanmar nationals sheltering in the state.

Several days a week, she and her three daughters sit at
Farkawn’s main crossroads selling plastic slippers, cosmetics and diapers –
goods ordered for her shop at home that she managed to bring into India.

Years of savings have been wiped out, Mah Tial said.

“I am mentally prepared to stay as a refugee,” she
said.

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THOUSANDS DISPLACED

Across Chin, fighting in the wake of the coup has displaced
more than 20 percent of the state’s population of around 500,000 people, said
Salai Za Uk Ling of the Chin Human Rights Organisation (CHRO).

The Myanmar military did not comment when asked about the
figures, which Reuters could not independently confirm.

Some have crossed into Mizoram, which has close ethnic ties
with areas of Chin and where the state government has extended support for
those fleeing Myanmar.

In mid-December, Mizoram’s Chief Minister Zoramthanga met
ousted Myanmar lawmakers and promised them his government would continue to
help those seeking shelter in the Indian state.

Zoramthanga, who uses one name, said the federal government
was unable to help Myanmar nationals because India is not a signatory to the UN
Refugee Convention.

International aid groups could step in, he added, even as
local organisations have provided most support so far. Foreign aid hasn’t
reached Farkawn.

The Mizoram government has also opened its schools to Myanmar
nationals, allowing children like Mah Tial’s youngest child, 12-year-old Van
Tha Uk Lian, to attend classes.

In Farkawn, a settlement of around 4,000 people, residents
banded together to help around 1,100 Myanmar nationals who crossed over since
February, village council president Lalramliana said.

Dozens have been accommodated in temporary shelters made of
thin tarpaulin sheets and bamboo poles, with village residents and donations
from across the state helping provide essentials like food, firewood and
clothes.

But Lalramliana said he was worried as donated supplies were
running out.

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Mah Tial said she hoped India would provide a legal pathway for
her three older daughters to travel to a third country for education or
employment.

“We cannot undo the past,” she said. “I am
concerned about my children. I want to give them a better life.”

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