Protect Those Fleeing Myanmar Crackdown, UN Urges Countries in the Region

Though the body did not mention India by name, the call comes days after Manipur issued – and subsequently withdrew – an order that said shelters or food cannot be provided to refugees from Myanmar.

New Delhi: Offices of the United Nations on Thursday called for Myanmar’s neighbour’s to protect those who are fleeing the military’s crackdown and make sure that they are not turned away.

Though the news report published by the UN did not mention India by name, the call comes days after Manipur issued – and subsequently withdrew – an order barring district administrations and civil society organisations from opening shelters or providing food to refugees from Myanmar who may have crossed the border in the recent days.

The UN noted that the political strife across Myanmar and renewed fighting between Myanmar’s military and armed organisations in some border areas are “driving people to flee within the country and across borders”.

Gillian Triggs, the assistant high commissioner for protection at the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said in a press note that “it is vital that anyone crossing the border, seeking asylum in another country, is able to access it”.

“Children, women and men fleeing for their lives should be given sanctuary. They must not be returned to a place where their lives or freedom may be at risk. This principle of non-refoulement is a cornerstone of international law and is binding on all states,” she said.

The UN said hat the situation in Myanmar has “deteriorated rapidly” since the military coup on February 1. According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), at least 510 peaceful protesters have been killed by the security forces and more than 2,600 have been detained or have been forcibly disappeared.

‘Stand in solidarity’ with people of Myanmar 

The OHCHR said it had received reports that some individuals, who fled Myanmar in search of safety in the region “have been forced to return to the country”.

Cynthia Veliko, South-East Asia regional representative of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights underscored that “no one should face the risk of being returned to Myanmar when their lives, safety or fundamental human rights are threatened”.

“In light of binding obligations under international refugee and human rights law, we call on all countries to ensure that all those seeking asylum are able to access the protection to which they are entitled under international law,” she added.

“Now is the time for us to stand in solidarity with the people of Myanmar.”

Countries in the region should ensure effective search and rescue operations, she said, adding that they should refrain from “intercepting or pushing back” those who are trying to access sea or land routes to reach safety.

UNHCR assistant high commissioner Triggs also highlighted that Myanmar’s neighbours have a “decades-long history” of providing protection and assistance to refugees.

“As the situation in Myanmar deteriorates further, we call on states to continue their lifesaving humanitarian tradition of safeguarding the lives of all those forced to flee”, she urged.

UNHCR and its partner organisations stand ready to support national and local authorities to ensure that refugees receive the protection they need, she added.

Suspend deportations while Myanmar is in crisis

The UN human rights office also urged countries to put in place measures to ensure immigrants from Myanmar are not deported while the country is still in crisis.

“We call on countries in the region to suspend deportations of Myanmar migrants who are undocumented or otherwise in irregular situations, and to provide them with a secure legal status while their country remains in crisis,” Veliko said.

Countries should look at safe, non-custodial alternatives to the detention of undocumented migrants, the OHCHR said.

This could also be a reference to India, as the country is planning to deport several Rohingya Muslims back to their country.

The question of how to deal with those fleeing Myanmar has become a thorn between the Centre and at least one northeastern state – Mizoram. While the Centre had sent a letter to the state governments of Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Mizoram asking them to identify and deport people who are fleeing the coup, the Mizo National Front government in Mizoram has said it would not be possible to do this immediately.

“It will not go down well with people in Mizoram if the Central government insists on deporting [those who are fleeing]. Being the largest democracy in the world, it is the responsibility of India to encourage and support any struggle to protect and uphold democratic rights and principles. They are our brothers; sending them back to Myanmar will mean killing them,” said MPF’s Vanlalvena in Rajya Sabha recently.