Agartala/Aizawl: Following pressure from the union home ministry and the Tripura government, Mizoram has finally agreed to take back all the tribal refugees sheltering in Tripura for the past 18 years.
"The repatriation of refugees expected to start from June 8. A tripartite meeting between the officials of Tripura and Mizoram governments and refugee leaders took this decision," Panisagar Sub-divisional magistrate Biplab Das told IANS.
He said: "It was decided in the meeting that from June 2 to June 4, a study would be done about how many of the refugees' names have been enrolled in the electoral list of Mizoram. Then sub-divisional level officials of the two states in presence of the refugee leaders would be held before starting of the repatriation on June 8."
According to Relief and Rehabilitation Minister Badal Choudhury, there are 5,286 tribal families comprising 31,223 men, women and children sheltered in seven camps in Kanchanpur and Panisagar sub-divisions under North Tripura district adjoining Mizoram.
The Reang tribals, who locally call themselves "Bru", have lived in makeshift camps camps in Tripura since October 1997 when they fled western Mizoram after the killing of a Mizo forest officer triggered ethnic trouble.
The Mizoram government earlier refused to take back all the refugees citing that all the migrants are not the resident of Mizoram.
"In the Friday's district magistrate-level meeting, the Mizoram government officials more or less agreed to take back all the refugees sheltered in Tripura," said Das, who was also present in the meeting.
The Tripura government team was led by additional district magistrate of North Tripura district Ranjit Das while Mizoram's team was led by Mamit district Deputy Commissioner Vanlalngaihsaka.
Meanwhile, Mizoram's additional secretary of home department Lalbiakzama said in Aizawl that following the Supreme Court's directives and the decision made in the meeting of the union home ministry in presence of Mizoram and Tripura governments' officials on January 30, it was proposed to repatriate all the remaining tribal families from the relief camps in north Tripura district.
"The union home ministry has recently released Rs.4.7 crore for the repatriation purposes, but the amount would not be sufficient for repatriation of all the remaining Reang tribal families," Lalbiakzama said.
The Mizoram government earlier sought around Rs.70 crore financial assistance from the union home ministry to rehabilitate the repatriated tribal refugees.
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and his deputy Kiren Rijiju had visited the refugee camps and held talks with the refugee leaders on February 14 and persuaded the tribal to go back to their villages in western Mizoram.
Refugee leaders told the central ministers that they were willing to return to their homes in Mizoram if their 10 points demands, including security and rehabilitation, were met.
The Mizoram Bru Displaced People's Forum (MBDPF), an organisation of the refugees, submitted a six-page memorandum to the central ministers accusing the Mizoram government of discriminating against them.
The Mizoram government remains ambiguous on the refugees' demands, which also included free supply of food grain for two years, and allotting land to them.
Mizo organisations, however, have opposed the MBDPF's demands.
Tripura Revenue and Relief Minister Choudhury told IANS: "We urge upon the central government to ask the Mizoram government to take back the refugees."
"The union home minister tried to hold a meeting with the chief ministers of Tripura and Mizoram to finalise a road map to repatriate the refugees to Mizoram. However, the Mizoram chief minister did not attend the meeting nor did he send his representative."
"It is very unfortunate that the tribals despite being Indians nationals and permanent inhabitant of a state, are unable to live in their homeland. This is dangerous for the ethnic amity, stability and peace," the minister said.
"A serious socio-economic problem has cropped up due to the long stay of the refugees in Tripura. The refugees have damaged vast areas in forests in Kanchanpur causing serious environmental problems," he added.
"Some refugees are involved in terrorist activities. The refugees also work for cheap wages, creating an awkward situation for local labourers," the minister said.
(Sujit Chakraborty can be contacted at email@example.com)