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IDPs not refugees


Apropos the news item entitled, “Reang refugees torch houses in Tripura district” (ST May 17, 2016), the use of the term “refugees” in relation to Reang tribe is misleading and should be avoided. They are not refugees but “internally displaced persons” (IDPs). As per Article 1 A (2) of the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (1951), refugee is a person who “owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.” In simple words, a refugee is a person who is outside the country of his nationality. On the other hand, according to the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement (1998), IDPs are “persons or groups of persons who have been forced or obliged to flee or to leave their homes or places of habitual residence, in particular as a result of or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights or natural or human-made disasters, and who have not crossed an internationally recognized State border.” It means that IDPs, unlike refugees, do not cross an international frontier, but for whatever reason, also flee their homes. And obviously the Reangs have not crossed an international border. Albeit they have fled from their place of habitual residence i.e. Mizoram, but they are staying within their own country. Hence, the Reangs are IDPs and not refugees.

As an avid reader of your newspaper, I consider it my humble duty to point out the​conceptual inaccuracy in the said  ​news item


Yours etc.,

Shishir Tiwari

Assistant Professor
Department of Law
North-Eastern Hill University


 Shillong then and now




Quaint neat Assam-type houses reminiscent of a colonial era of Shilllong’s past, that the old boisterously narrate to us the young. Police Bazar’s few humble shopping complexes(that people impatiently rush to in Christmas) that look to surprise one amid a line of small shops and kiosks here and there-some selling watches like HMT, magazines like ‘Auto India’, novels like Wordsworth’s Classics etc. And Yezdis and Yamaha RD 350s in smooth traffic zooming between Ambassador cabs and those blue and yellow wooden Tata buses with beautiful artworks on the sides. Now, they are replaced by architect-designed full concrete houses, malls that offer more than five brands, streets chaotic with angry-looking mini super bikes, sleek Hyundai sedans, intimidating Renault SUVs and bug-eyed Chevrolet hatchbacks. Back in my childhood during the nineties I would regularly accompany my mother for grocery shopping in Laitumkhrah’s small marketplace, and we would afterwards stop by in some dukan sha (tea shops) for some tea and pu- syep. There was a certain joy that we derived spending time there. In those days, dukan sha were places for having those long endless chats. Shillong has evolved over the years with cafes now being fashionable. I remember back then when tourists who were interviewed would say its a “unique charming small town”. Now contemporary Shillong can be defined as an urban area which has led to it earning its name as a vibrant “city”. Gone are those years of smooth traffic like Sundays and few people treading on pavements.


  Yours etc,

  Willie Gordon Suting,

Via email .



‘Hearts and Minds’, winning back Garo Hills


Who is to going re-stabilize the militancy torn Garo Hills? It would be interesting to see the outcome of the political battle between Conrad Sangma and counterpart Dikkanchi D Shira and whether the political leadership take the initiative to bring solutions. A glimmer of hope in the form of a major success came by as the entire ‘Northern Command’ of the Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA) surrendered including its top honchos. The spate of surrenders and aggressive operations have rattled the morale of the banned insurgent group. The question which comes to  mind is why so many surrenders at a time when the bye-poll was at hand? Could it not have taken place in the previous months which could have saved a number of lives?

Operation Hill Storm III was launched with a twofold objective- combating militancy using local policing tactics and mobilizing public approach (hearts & minds) for restoring peace. What is strange is that the goals of counter insurgency operation cannot be achieved with only firepower, neglecting basic services such as education, infrastructure, health etc which make the population vulnerable to penetration by guerrillas as in French Indo china and Soviet-occupied Afghanistan. The failure of counter-insurgency operations and the root cause of insurgency can be traced to government disregard towards these elements.

What is needed at this crucial stage is an appropriate political framework. Better examples which explain this is Kashmir where Lt General Arjun Ray of the 14 Corps in Ladakh and India’s deputy military advisor in London redefined the armed forces by launching Operation Sadbhavana (Goodwill) and setting up 13 Sadhbhavana schools, 11 Women’s Empowerment Centres, and 60 Adult Education Centres for non-literate women along the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir. (Wikipedia). During the Malaya Emergency in the 1950s, British High Commissioner Sir Gerald Templer a dynamic leader strived for political and social equality of all Malays. He elevated the region by constructing schools, clinics, electrifying rural villages thereby changing the overall environment and driving the people further from accidental guerrillas and closer to the government.

Finally for the police and political leadership, at the end of the day the approach must be environment centric rather than enemy centric. “You cannot win the war without the help of the population, and you cannot get the support of the population without at least beginning to win the war,” was what Oliver Lyttelton, UK Colonial Secretary said while referring to the Malayan Emergency, 1951.

Yours etc.,

     Christopher Gatphoh           


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