Moreh, Manipur, India – Seven Myanmar nationals, including three journalists from a Yangon-based media house, will travel to New Delhi to approach the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) India ) after a court in northeast Manipur ordered security passage for them on Monday.
Myanmar’s seven nationals had been “hidden” in Moreh, a border town in Manipur’s Tengnoupal district, for weeks before reaching the state capital Imphal on April 21 after a temporary protection ordered by the court.
The seven are among hundreds of Myanmar citizens, including police, military and lawmakers, who seek refuge in the Indian states of Manipur and Mizoram after fleeing to escape brutal repression following a February 1 military coup. ‘this year.
Many of those who fled are members of the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) against the coup, which has been protesting to demand the reinstatement of civilian government in Myanmar.
More than 750 protesters have reportedly died in the crackdown, even as ethnic armed groups continue to clash with the military government.
In their order on Monday, the judges of the Manipur High Court made a distinction between migrants and refugees seeking asylum.
“They did not enter our country with the clear and deliberate intention of breaking and violating our national laws. They fled their country of origin under imminent threat to their lives and freedom, “the judges said.
Citing Myanmar’s media coverage, the judges said that “there is no doubt that these people of Myanmar, given their relations with the banned media organization Mizzima, face an imminent threat to their lives and freedom if they return “.
“This court considers it fair and appropriate to extend protection under Article 21 of the Constitution to these seven people in Myanmar and to grant them a safe passage to New Delhi to enable them to enjoy adequate protection of the ‘UNHCR,’ they said, asking the governments of New Delhi and Manipur to facilitate their journey.
Chief human rights lawyer Nandita Haksar had filed the petition on behalf of the seven nationals of Myanmar, alleging that they could be deported back to Myanmar by Assam rifles, the paramilitary force guarding the India-Myanmar border.
Among the seven are Sit Thau Aung, a 43-year-old video journalist, Chin San Lun, a web designer, Pau Khan Thawn, a webmaster, his wife and three children.
Haksar cited a March 10 letter issued by the Indian Interior Ministry to the states bordering Myanmar and Assam rifles, which led them to check the influx of “illegal immigrants” from Myanmar .
The letter stated that India is not a signatory to the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to Refugees or its 1967 Protocol and is therefore not obliged to give refuge to the citizens of Myanmar.
Haksar told Al Jazeera on Monday that they would soon take a flight to New Delhi.
“They wanted to go to Delhi and hopefully now get the UNHCR certificate,” he said, adding that the agency insists on the presence of applicants in the city to process their asylum claims.
Thawn and his wife took refuge in India in 2007 during the saffron revolution in Myanmar, Haksar’s petition and court notes. They went back after the normalization of the situation in Myanmar.
The Saffron Revolution was a series of massive protests in 2007, sparked by a rise in the price of fuel, but which soon took the form of a movement against military rulers. Buddhist monks led the protests, hence the name saffron in reference to their robes.
In March this year, as the situation in Myanmar deteriorated and the military began cracking down on dissident journalists, Thawn, along with his family and colleagues, packed their bags to escape.
After two days of bus travel and a short trek through the hills, the seven crossed the border and arrived in Moreh on March 22nd.
“It simply came to our notice then. The military had begun arresting people in the media, “Aung told Al Jazeera, detailing the circumstances of his escape. He claimed to be on the list of journalists wanted by the army and said there was a pending order. against him.
Aung and his colleagues had covered the consequences of the coup in February. “We were live,” Aung said.
On March 8, the military revoked Mizzima’s publishing and broadcasting license.
“They attacked our central broadcasting office in Yangon on March 9 and took everything they found,” Soizz Myint, founder of Mizzima, said in an email to Al Jazeera from an undisclosed location .
Myint said he was also active in the pro-democracy uprising against the 1988 military government, which was brutally crushed by them. In 1990 he was one of the two involved kidnapping a Thai Airways plane that was diverted to the Indian city of Calcutta.
The duo had demanded that the police allow them to go to a press conference to tell the world what was happening in Burma (formerly Myanmar).
Myint later founded the Mizzima news organization in 1998 in New Delhi, where he lived as a refugee.
Myint said three Mizzima journalists were arrested in February and March, while three other former officials, including Myint’s co-founder and wife, Thin Thin Aung, were picked up on April 8.
Meanwhile, Moreh, the small border town, continues to host more than 1,000 Myanmar nationals, mostly from the Sagaing division, which saw fierce clashes between protesters and the military.
Tamu, the municipality on the other side of Moreh, has been silent in recent days, according to Jangman Haokip, chairman of the Hill Tribal Council, a community organization representing a section of local tribal communities living in this part of Manipur.
“But people are still afraid. They don’t want to go back, “he said. “The center and the state should do something for the good of these people.”
Locals complain that the state government has not offered any support and has left it to community organizations to take care of the citizens of Myanmar.
In neighboring Mizoram, the number of Myanmar citizens seeking refuge has grown to more than 3,000, according to local community organizations.
The Manipur High Court order has raised the hopes of many of these Myanmar citizens who may seek refuge in India.
Bernard L Chhangte, chairman of the Democratic Myanmar NGO United for Democratic, an umbrella group of more than 20 local civil society groups involved in helping Myanmar citizens in Mizoram, said they are studying the court order and studying the possibility of taking new measures.
“It can also be noted that while India does not have a clear policy or framework for refugee protection, it grants asylum to a large number of refugees from nearby countries. India usually respects UNHCR’s recognition of the ‘status of these asylum seekers, mainly from Afghanistan and Myanmar,’ the Manipur order notes.
Haksar hoped that India would grant asylum to “real refugees.”
“The importance of this order is that the high court made a distinction between refugees and migrants. This is a very important distinction. Anyone who is a refugee should be able to take advantage of the order,” he said.