The Manipur government has resumed capturing biometric data of Myanmar nationals who have illegally entered the state.
The resumption came amid the ongoing unrest that has left at least 158 dead and 60,000 displaced since May 3.
A statement issued by Peter Salam, joint secretary of the home department, on Saturday said the state government has “resumed its campaign for biometric capture of all illegal Myanmar immigrants in the state” from Saturday on the “instructions” of the Union ministry of home affairs.
“A team of officials of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), deputed by Ministry of Home Affairs for training and handholding of State Government Officers in this campaign, assisted the State Government officials in capturing biometric data of illegal immigrants at Foreigners’ Detention Centre, Sajiwa, Imphal East District today (Saturday),” the government statement said.
Valley-based organisations and Manipur chief minister N. Biren Singh have been blaming the influx of Kuki-Chin people from Myanmar, cross-border narco trade and Kuki militant groups under suspension of operations for the ongoing unrest in the state.
The state government’s sustained drive against poppy cultivation and a crackdown on the influx from Myanmar are cited by most as two important reasons that triggered the current unrest.
The state home department’s statement was issued within hours of the Coordinating Committee on Manipur Integrity (Cocomi) — a conglomerate of leading valley-based civil society organisations — taking out a massive rally in Imphal against “Chin-Kuki narco-terrorism in Manipur”.
The biometrics campaign will continue in all districts until the biometric data of all illegal immigrants are successfully captured. “The same is targeted for completion by September 2023,” the statement said.
A day earlier, the home department had urged the district police chiefs to immediately commence the campaign to capture the biometrics to meet the September deadline.
According to a police report submitted to the home department on June 6, altogether 2,480 illegal Myanmar immigrants (refugees) have been detected in the state.
The 2021 coup in the neighbouring country led to a widespread influx of Myanmar nationals in Manipur and Mizoram.
Mizoram is sheltering 35,126 refugees and will also launch a biometrics campaign from Thursday, barring last-minute changes, on the instructions of the home affairs ministry.
Salam told The Telegraph that 2,500 illegal Myanmar nationals in the state have been detected, and he is hopeful of completing the biometrics collection in Imphal West and Imphal East districts in the next “two-three” days.
“There are around 300 such immigrants in the two Imphal districts. We will complete Chandel district, which has about 1,100 Myanmar immigrants, in the next 10-15 days,” Salam said.
Myanmar infiltrators or refugees have been detected in Tengnoupal, Churachandpur, Kamjong and two Imphal districts. They have been lodged in foreigner detention centres, judicial custody and shelter homes, sources said.
The government is also keeping a “close watch” on those “living on their own” in newly set-up villages in remote areas.
Manipur shares a 398km border with Myanmar while Mizoram shares a border of around 510km. Kuki-Chin people share the same ancestry as the Kuki-Zo people of Manipur and the Mizos of Mizoram.
In Mizoram, 15,589 Myanmar refugees are lodged in 162 relief camps while the remaining are staying with relatives and friends, and in rented accommodation.
The biometrics collection in Manipur was started by the state government on its own in February with the objective of keeping a proper record of the infiltrators or refugees and preventing them from obtaining official identity documents “such as Aadhaar and voter card to become Indian citizens through unlawful means”, an official said.
“The home ministry also instructed the state government to collect biometric data on May 29, 2023, in their format. The exercise has resumed after the MHA instruction from July 29, 2023 onwards,” the official said.
The police and civil officials are collecting the biometrics but since they are heavily engaged in law and order duty because of the ongoing unrest, the administration is working out a plan to complete the process by September without “impacting” the law and order front, an official said when asked what is the progress of the campaign in the Kuki-majority areas in the hill districts. The Meiteis mostly live in the six valley districts.