Identification of Illegal Migrants: New Challenges

By M C Arun

While Assam Government could not move an inch towards the identification of illegal migrants who came from India’s friendly neighbor and settled in different districts of Assam, the Government of Manipur took a firm step towards the identification of such foreign origin migrants who settled in different parts of the State. The Government of Manipur is trying to stop these migrant entering the State at different key points. The present police drive at Jiribam, Mao and Imphal is definitely timely; it is, of course, good not only in demographic sense but also in all the possible political senses. The presence of less than one hundred illegal migrants, mainly in rented houses in the heart of the city is, however, tip of iceberg. The stopping of 100 migrants from adjacent districts of Assam at Jiribam is just firefighting mechanism. This mechanism is not enough for solving the real problem and for avoiding Assam-like riots in future Manipur. The general feeling in the State is that there may be many more that settled in villages or formed villages of their own. The police exercise and arbitrary groupings on the basis of States of origin may identify the recent migrants; it would not be able to identify those who came before one year or so. On the other hand, seemingly the police personnel are not well equipped with the verification of the identity cards or voter cards produced before them. At present, the need of the hour is to identify all the illegal migrants and to take necessary legal actions. One of the hurdles to such identification is the base year – would it be 1951 or 1971. There was a debate over the base year when All Manipur Students’ Union (AMSU) spearheaded the anti-foreigner agitation in 1980-81. The student body demanded to take 1951 as base year of foreigner identification; the government of Manipur suggested that the base year should be 1971. There were two agreements between AMSU and Government of India. Nothing, however, came out. Over two decades, the issue was kept on hold.

Even for the police action on the identification of foreign origin illegal migrants, the question of base year is still relevant. Otherwise, such action will not yield any good reason except for stopping illegal migration on an ad-hoc basis. This may stop spillover of Assam clash between original settlers and migrant settlers from friendly neighbor country. The legal action also needs a special court for dealing with the migrants; moreover, the normal courts are busy with their normal cases. The legality of identification and its base year, methods of detection and competent authority to identify are some of the core issues, which should be addressed for continuous actions on illegal migrants. The verification and methods thereof of voter cards or identity cards issued by different authorities should also be discussed first.

The continuation of identification of foreign origin migrants needs a policy because it involves various human rights issues, citizenships of their children born in Imphal, question of female spouses who are Manipuris and many more. It demands larger social discussion on these issues; otherwise the present drive will not give a permanent solution to the snowballing effects of illegal migration. The scope of present drive should also be widened so that it would cover the illegal migrants from the eastern neighbor Myanmar too. The issue was raised up even by Kuki National Assembly as early as 1972. There is possibility of thousands of illegal migrants entering the State from Manipur’s adjacent Divisions and States of Myanmar every now and then. As some ethnic groups of Myanmar inhabit contiguously over Manipur and Myanmar, the identifying authority needs special methods. The accumulation of eastern migrants in certain areas of Manipur may pose serious threats not only to the demographic composition but also to the existence of the State. The threat may become a serious problem as we see in Assam where the migrant communities inhabit continuously over Assam and Bangladesh.

The step of identification of foreign origin migrants who live in Imphal is, of course, a bold step of the Government. One step is not enough. We need to look into the deeper aspects of illegal migration and to take up all the possible political and legal actions. Sending a few individuals is not enough to see the yield of the operation. We should understand the history and political economy of the foreign origin migrants in Manipur. The mappings of newly established migrant settlements should also be made so that we can look into various issues involving in identification and legal actions on these migrants. The base year issue should be resolved first so that the action can be continuously taken by an authority. Police should not lead the operation; DCs and their offices, land records, census operations etc. should come into pictures besides special tribunals.


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