Moreh, Manipur, India – Seven Myanmar nationals, including three journalists from a Yangon-based media house, are due to travel to New Delhi to approach the Indian office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) after a northern court -est of Manipur state ordered security. passage for them Monday.
The seven Burmese nationals had “hidden” in Moreh, a border town in the Tengnoupal district of Manipur, for weeks before arriving in Imphal, the state capital, on April 21 following protection. provisional order ordered by the court.
The seven are among hundreds of Myanmar nationals, including police, military and lawmakers, who seek refuge in the Indian states of Manipur and Mizoram after fleeing to escape brutal crackdown in the aftermath of a coup. ‘Military state on February 1 of this year.
Many of those who fled are members of the anti-coup Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM), which has protested to demand the reestablishment of civilian government in Myanmar.
More than 750 protesters have been killed in the crackdown, according to reports, even as ethnic armed groups continue to clash with the military government.
In their order on Monday, the judges of the High Court of Manipur made a distinction between migrants and refugee asylum seekers.
“They did not enter our country with the clear and deliberate intention to break and violate our national laws. They fled their country of origin under imminent threat to their lives and their freedom, ”the judges declared.
Citing media coverage of Myanmar, the judges said there is “no doubt that these Burmese people, given their ties to the banned Mizzima Media Organization, face an imminent threat to their lives and their freedom in the event of return ”.
“This court considers it just and appropriate to extend protection under Article 21 of the Constitution to these seven Burmese people and to grant them safe passage to New Delhi to enable them to benefit from appropriate protection from UNHCR, ”they said, asking the governments of New Delhi. Delhi and Manipur to facilitate their travel.
Nandita Haksar, a veteran human rights lawyer, had filed a petition on behalf of the seven Myanmar nationals, claiming that they could be returned to Myanmar by the Assam Rifles, the paramilitary force that guards the border between India and Myanmar.
The seven include 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 quoted a March 10 letter sent by India’s interior ministry to states bordering Myanmar and the Assam Rifles, urging them to control the influx of “illegal immigrants” from Myanmar.
The letter stated that India was not a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol and therefore was not obligated to provide refuge to Myanmar nationals.
Haksar told Al Jazeera on Monday that they would soon be taking a flight to New Delhi.
“They wanted to go to Delhi and now hope they will get the certificate from UNHCR,” she said, adding that the agency insists on the applicants’ presence in the city to process their asylum claims.
Thawn and his wife took refuge in India in 2007 during the Myanmar Saffron Revolution, Haksar’s petition and the court order notes. They returned after the situation returned to normal in Myanmar.
The Saffron Revolution was a series of mass protests in 2007, sparked by rising fuel prices but which quickly took the form of a movement against the military rulers. Buddhist monks were at the forefront of the protests, hence the name saffron in reference to their robes.
In March of this year, as the situation in Myanmar deteriorated and the military began to crack 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 hike through the hills, the seven crossed the border and arrived in Moreh on March 22.
“There was a media shutdown. The military had started arresting media people, ”Aung told Al Jazeera, detailing the circumstances of his escape. He claimed to be on the list of journalists wanted by the military and said an arrest warrant was pending against him.
Aung and his colleagues had covered the aftermath of the February coup. “We broadcast it live,” Aung said.
On March 8, the military revoked Mizzima’s publishing and broadcasting license.
“They raided our broadcasting headquarters in Yangon on March 9 and took away everything they found,” Mizzima founder Soe Myint said in an email to Al Jazeera from a location. unknown.
Myint said he was also active in the 1988 pro-democracy uprising against the military government, which was brutally crushed by them. In 1990 he was one of two involved in diversion a Thai Airways plane that was diverted to the Indian city of Kolkata.
The duo had demanded that the police allow them to speak at a press conference to tell the world what was happening in Burma (former name of Myanmar).
Myint then 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 staff, including Myint’s co-founder and wife Thin Thin Aung, were arrested on April 8.
Meanwhile, Moreh, the small border town, continues to host more than 1,000 Burmese nationals, mostly from the Sagaing division which has seen heavy clashes between protesters and the military.
Tamu, the township opposite Moreh, has fallen silent in recent days, according to Jangman Haokip, chairman of the Hill Tribal Council, a community organization representing part of the local tribal communities who live in this part of Manipur.
“But people are still worried. They don’t want to go back, ”he said. “The center and the state should do something for the good of these people.”
Residents complain that the state government has offered no support and has left the care of Myanmar nationals to community organizations.
In neighboring Mizoram, the number of Burmese nationals seeking shelter has risen to more than 3,000, according to local community organizations.
The order of the High Court of Manipur raised the hope of many of these Myanmar nationals to be able to seek refuge in India.
Bernard L. Chhangte, president of the NGO United for Democratic Myanmar, a coordination group of more than 20 local civil society groups involved in helping Burmese nationals in Mizoram, said they were studying the ordinance of court and were considering further measures.
“It can also be noted that although India does not have a clear refugee protection policy or framework, it grants asylum to large numbers of refugees from neighboring countries. India generally respects the recognition by the UNHCR of the status of these asylum seekers, mainly from Afghanistan and Myanmar, ”notes the order of the High Court in Manipur.
Haksar hoped that India would grant asylum to “genuine refugees”.
“The significance of this order is that the High Court made a distinction between refugee and migrant. This is a very important distinction. Anyone who is a refugee should be able to benefit from order, ”she said.