Lobbying from the Naga Student Federation (NSF) resulted in a success this past week when educational institutions in the Indian state of Nagaland agreed to accept Naga students fleeing junta terror in Burma, regardless of access to documentation.
Since military operations in Burma’s northwest forced thousands to find shelter in India, ethnic Naga refugees have come out of hiding to seek another chance at higher education across the border.
A representative of the group says that, in the beginning, almost none of the territory’s educational institutions had accepted Naga students from Burma as they lacked education records and personal identification documents.
“There are thousands of students who came up to Nagaland to settle for emergency purposes, where those students were forcefully kicked out from their own country because of the military occupation,” NSF president Kegwayhun Tep said, adding that most were high school students seeking to finish their secondary education. “They did not carry any documents with them in order to take admission in any educational institution.”
Now, nearly all institutions in the state have committed to accepting Burma’s displaced Naga students regardless of documentation to hand.
A surge in Naga students crossing the border occurred after the Burma Army launched operations in parts of Chin State and Sagaing Region from the second half of last year, and continued into early 2022. Last September, one report estimated that over 11,000 Burmese nationals were residing in the state of Mizoram. Further north, others fled the Naga Self-Administered Zone in Sagaing, crossing into the Indian state of Nagaland.
For security reasons, NSF is unable to disclose exactly how many students have entered Nagaland, but does say that churches and civil society organizations are actively assisting refugees with other needs, like food and accommodation.
The hill tribes’ own relationship with the Indian government has historically been tenuous, yet NSF say their advocacy is premised in the shared struggles of the Naga people over what Tep termed an “arbitrary border”. Given the Indian government’s laissez-faire approach toward Burma’s refugees (aside from its close tracking of those entering through border regions), NSF and those in the Naga diaspora say they feel responsible to advocate for those seeking safety and education.
“Our people, Nagas, were forcibly separated,” Kegwayhun Tep said. “With the intrusion of this military junta occupation, they have forced Naga people to come out of their jurisdiction. It is our own brothers, they are our own mothers; we are compelled to accommodate them.”