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Brus caught amid home and security

A Reang refugee camp at Kanchanpur in North Tripura district. Picture by Pranab Shil

Kanchanpur (North Tripura): No cluster village, no repatriation - the message rang out loud and clear as news of a four-corner agreement signed for repatriating Reangs (Brus) reached the refugee camps here in North Tripura district.

The agreement, signed by the Centre and the Mizoram and Tripura governments and representatives of the Mizoram Bru Displaced Peoples' Forum earlier this month, says the refugees will have to return to Mizoram by September 10 and the transit camps will be closed by October. It, however, does not include the refugees' core demands of cluster villages in Mizoram and central security forces to protect them from another ethnic flare-up.

Over 37,000 Brus had fled Mamit, Kolasib and Lunglei districts of Mizoram after ethnic clashes in 1997 and were sheltered in six relief camps in Kanchanpur, 170km from Agartala. After seven phases of repatriation, over 32,000 people are still sheltered there.

Achaksa Reang, a refugee living in Naisingpara camp, said, "We have been living in refugee camps in Tripura for the last 20 years. We did not come on our own. We were forced to seek shelter here. Now, they have signed an agreement without giving importance to our demands. We shall not accept repatriation unless our demands are met."

C. Lalmawis Reang, 60, who came to Tripura two decades ago, said, "We want to return but our demands have not been met. They signed the agreement without consulting us about our future."

Achaksa said living conditions in the camps were bad. "We don't have any school above fifth standard. Our brothers and sisters are growing old almost illiterate. We collect drinking water from a local rivulet since the water supply line is damaged. There is no proper sanitation, no healthcare. Prime Minister Narendra Modi says sabka saath, sabka vikas. We are Indians too. Why is it different for us?" he asked.

Lalmawis said, "We will die in the camps but not go back unless our demands of cluster villages, one-time cash compensation and housing allowance are met."

The slogan reverberates at Hezacherra camp, 10km from Naisingpara. "We have been waiting here too long. We are ready to return to Mizoram but will not go back till our demands are fulfilled," said Naushela Reang, 32.

Jauserung Reang, 34, wants school, hospital, potable water, electricity, doctors in cluster villages in Mizoram if repatriation has to happen.

"We don't get work under MGNREGA, we don't get benefits of any central government scheme. We have a tough life here but fear we might be attacked again in Mizoram," said Jehanti Reang, 60, showing marks of an old wound on her leg.

However, the forum's secretary, Bruno Msha, who has just returned from New Delhi after signing the agreement, said the refugees will have to return. "Accepting the repatriation package was the best thing to do. Some points like grouping of villages, allotment of land and central security were left out," he admitted but added that these issues will be sorted out "under the dynamic leadership of Modi and home minister Rajnath Singh".

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