Chidambaram to convince Reang refugees to return home

Agartala, February 13: Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram will Saturday visit Tripura’s refugee camps, where over 36,000 tribal migrants from Mizoram have been staying for the past 15 years, and seek to persuade them to return home, officials said Monday.

“Before Chidambaram’s visit, a high-level home ministry team would visit Tripura and meet leaders of the refugees and officials of Tripura and Mizoram governments to finalise the strategies for repatriation of the migrants,” a Tripura government official told reporters.

Chidambaram, who came to Agartala May 17 last year, was scheduled to visit Mizoram next day but cancelled his trip to Aizawl due to bad weather.

“The long-awaited repatriation of the tribal refugees had resumed April 12 last year, but the process was stopped as most refugees were unwilling to return to their homes without a written assurance from the Mizoram government,” an official said.

Uncertainty is still prevailing over whether all the migrants here would return home, the official added.

“If the refugees are keen to come to their homeland, the Mizoram government, with the help of Tripura administration, would take back the refugees in a phased manner,” a Mizoram government official told reporters in Aizawl.

Following ethnic tensions in Mizoram, over 41,000 Reang tribal refugees — locally called Bru — had taken shelter in six camps in north Tripura’s Kanchanpur sub-division in October 1997.

A total of 701 tribal families — comprising about 3,585 men, women and children — were sent back last year.

The home ministry last year broadened the economic package for homebound refugees following mediation by the New Delhi-based rights group Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR).

“Apart from Rs.80,000, cash assistance to each refugee family and free rations for one year, the home ministry will support self-employment schemes to be initiated by the Reang tribals,” ACHR director Suhas Chakma told IANS on phone from New Delhi

A special development project for western Mizoram, where the Reang refugees are to be resettled, is also under consideration of the state government and the union ministry for the development of the north eastern region (DoNER), Chakma said.