Moreh, Manipur, India – Seven Myanmar nationals, including three journalists from a media outlet in Yangon, plan to travel to New Delhi to approach the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in India after the northeastern Manipur state court ordered a safe passage for them on Monday.
Myanmar’s seven citizens were “hidden” in Moreh, a border town in Tengnoupal district of Manipur, a few weeks before they arrived in the state capital on April 21 in Imphal, following a court-ordered temporary protection.
The seven include hundreds of Myanmar residents, including police, military and lawmakers, who seek refuge in India’s Manipur and Mizoram states after fleeing a brutal crackdown on a February 1 military coup this year.
Many of those who fled are members of the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) against the coup, and have protested to demand the restoration of Myanmar’s civilian government.
More than 750 protesters have been reported killed in the crackdown, although ethnic armed groups continue to clash with the military government.
In an order issued on Monday, the judges of the Manipur Court made a distinction between migrants and refugees seeking asylum.
“They did not enter our country with the clear and intentional intent to break and violate our domestic laws. They fled their country of origin under immediate threat to their lives and freedom, ”the judges said.
Citing a reference to the Myanmar media, the judges said that “there is no doubt that these people in Myanmar, because of their ties to the banned Mizzima Media Organization, are in immediate danger of 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 provide a safe passage to New Delhi for them to receive adequate protection from UNHCR,” they said, asking the new Governments. To facilitate travel to Delhi and Manipur.
Human Rights Attorney General Nandita Haksar filed the petition on behalf of seven Myanmar citizens, claiming that Assam Rifles, a paramilitary force guarding the India-Myanmar border, could return to Myanmar.
Among those seven are Sit Thau Aung, a 43-year-old video journalist, Chin San Lun, a web designer, Pau Khan Thawn, a website, his wife and three children.
Haksar quoted a letter from the Indian Interior Ministry to the states bordering Myanmar and Assam Rifles on March 10, ordering verification of the arrival of “illegal immigrants” from Myanmar.
In the letter, India is not a signatory to the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention or the 1967 Protocol and is therefore not obliged to provide shelter 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 they will get UNHCR certification,” he said, stressing the presence of applicants in the city to process asylum applications.
Thawn and his wife took refuge in India in 2007 during the Myanmar Saffron Revolution, Haksar’s request and court orders. They returned after the normalization of the situation in Myanmar.
The Saffron Revolution was a mass protest in 2007, caused by rising fuel prices, but which soon took the form of a movement against the military authorities. Buddhist monks were at the forefront of protests, hence the name saffron in reference to their clothing.
In March this year, when the situation in Myanmar deteriorated and the military began attacking dissident journalists, Thawn, along with his family and colleagues, packed their bags to escape.
After two days of bus travel and a short walk through the hills, the seven crossed the border and arrived in Moreh on March 22nd.
“There was a media shutdown. The military began arresting the media, “Aung told Al Jazeera, detailing the whereabouts of the fugitive. He claimed to be on the list of journalists wanted by the military and said there was an order against him.
Aung and his colleagues recounted the aftermath of the coup in February. “We were playing it live,” Aung said.
On March 8, the military revoked Mizzima’s publishing and broadcasting license.
“On March 9, they raided Yangon’s main broadcasting office and removed what they found,” Soe Myint, the founder of Mizzima, said in an email to Al Jazeera from an unannounced location via email.
Myint said he was also actively involved in the 1988 pro-democracy uprising against the military government, violently suppressing them. In 1990, he was one of two involved kidnapping Thai Airways plane bound for the Indian city of Kolkata.
The couple asked police for permission to address them at a press conference to tell them what was happening in the world in Burma (Myanmar’s former name).
Myint later founded the New Mizzima organization in 1998 in New Delhi where he lived as a refugee.
Myint said three journalists from Mizzima were arrested in February and March, and three other former employees, including the founder and wife Myint Thin Thin Aung, were picked up on April 8.
Meanwhile, Moreh, a small border town, continues to take in more than 1,000 citizens of Myanmar, mostly from fierce clashes between Protestants and the military in the Sagaing Division.
Tamu, a municipality opposite Moreh, has been quiet for the past few days, said Jangman Haokip Hill Tribal Council president, a community organization that represents part of the local tribal communities living in this part of Manipur.
“But people are still scared. They don’t want to go back, “he said.” The center and the state should do something for the benefit of those people. “
Locals have complained that the state government has not provided any assistance and has left it in the hands of community organizations to care for the citizens of Myanmar.
In neighboring Mizoram, asylum seekers in Myanmar have reached more than 3,000, according to local community organizations.
The Manipur High Court order has raised the hopes of many of these Myanmar citizens that they may seek refuge in India.
Bernard L Chhangte, president of the U.S. NGO Myanmar Democrats, a group of more than 20 local civil society groups involved in helping Mizaram nationals help Myanmar citizens, said the court order is being considered and further action is being considered.
“Furthermore, although there is no clear policy or framework for the protection of refugees in India, it grants asylum to a large number of refugees from neighboring countries. .
Haksar hoped to grant asylum to “real refugees” in India.
“The importance of this order is that the Supreme Court made a distinction between refugees and migrants. That is a very important distinction. Anyone who is a refugee should take advantage of the request,” he said.