The much-awaited repatriation of Reang tribal refugees from Tripura to adjoining Mizoram is set to resume Thursday, but there is still uncertainty over whether all the migrants in six camps will return home, officials said Wednesday.
"A total of 669 tribal families comprising about 3,655 men, women and children are likely to be sent back in five phases starting Thursday," North Tripura district magistrate Parshanta Kumar told IANS by phone.
By May 15, the tribal refugees would be repatriated to their villages under Mamit district in western Mizoram.
He said: "A team of Mizoram government officials has been camping in Kanchanpur in north Tripura to take back the refugees. They also held meetings with Tripura’s district officials. The Tripura government would provide all logistical support for the purpose.”
“The refugees’ main demands before repatriation was to a tripartite agreement between Mizoram, central governments and the tribal inmates,” Kumar said adding "our officials are providing all possible assistance to the Mizoram government officials to make the process trouble-free".
According to him, the repatriation of the remaining refugees is not yet finalised.
Since October 1997, over 41,000 Reang tribal refugees, locally called Bru, have taken shelter in six camps in north Tripura’s Kanchanpur sub-division, adjacent to western Mizoram.
They had fled their villages after ethnic clashes with the majority Mizos over the killing of a Mizo forest official.
The stalled repatriation process has been restarted after union Home Minister P. Chidambaram’s visit to Mizoram last month and a series of meetings with Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla and senior officials.
Refugee leaders have been insisting that without signing a tri-partite agreement between them, Mizoram and the central government, post-repatriation activities and works, including rehabilitation of the refugees, will remain uncertain.
Mizoram Bru Displaced People’s Forum (MBDPF) president A. Sawibunga said: “We would not create any impediment in the repatriation process, but a large number of common refugees are not fully influenced by the verbal assurance of the central and Mizoram governments.”
The refugees, lodged in six camps in northern Tripura, 180 km north of Agartala, have occasionally organised protest rallies.
“All 36,000 refugees are inhabitants of Mizoram. The Mizo political parties and NGOs are trying to upset the repatriation process by making new issues of considering the 1995 electoral list as the cut-off year for repatriation,” MBDPF president told IANS on phone from north Tripura.
“The long-awaited repatriation of Reang refugees had resumed April 12 last year, but the process was stopped as most refugees were unwilling to return without a written assurance from the Mizoram government,” a Tripura government official said in Agartala.
Uncertainty still prevails over whether all the migrants in Tripura would return home.