Home slipping away, Myanmar refugee children find anchor in Mizoram schools

Displaced from their homes following the 2021 Myanmar coup, children find hope across the border in Mizoram

Failure is the pillar of success, the headmaster says. She nods, her eyes downcast. The exam had not gone well.

“She was nervous,” explains the headmaster, as the student walks away to join her friends. “It was her first exam, after all.” The student, who turned 16 last month, is a refugee from Myanmar.

In August, the Mizoram government — which has welcomed the refugees fleeing a military coup in Myanmar, defying a directive by the Centre — announced that schools across the state would enrol refugee children on “humanitarian grounds”. The 16-year-old is among the 2,100 refugee students estimated to be enrolled in schools in the state.

She took admission, along with three other refugee girls and three boys, in Class 9 in a government school in Farkawn in Champhai district. Normalcy has been rare since they fled Myanmar in April, and the school offers that. “It is nice to wear the uniform and attend class,” says the 16-year-old.

The family left Myanmar carrying just a few clothes and blankets, not able to take even essential documents like the 16-year-old’s school certificates. At the Tiau river on the forested international border, the Indian Army shooed them away. But the family managed to find an alternative route, and eventually, a home — a modest one-room rented accommodation in Farkawn, a border town.

She, her brother (14) and their parents sleep on the floor on a mattress, and are dependent largely on aid from local NGOs and money from an aunt in Australia. Her father sometimes sells petrol filled in plastic bottles by the roadside.

The mother says uncertainty now marks their life. “We do not know when we will go back home. But at least now I sleep peacefully thinking my child is going to school.”

However, for the children, the transition is an everyday trial. While most of them, belonging to Chin state in northwest Myanmar, understand Mizo, they can’t fluently speak or write it — a hurdle in the classroom.

This article was originally published in The Indian Express in December 2021. Full article here.