Moreh, Manipur, India Seven citizens of Myanmar, including three journalists from a Yangon-based media house, will travel to New Delhi to contact the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in India after a court in the northeastern state of Manipur was ordered to ensure safety. Passage to them on Monday.
The seven Myanmar citizens had been “hiding” in Moreh, a border town in the Tanggopal district of Manipur, for weeks before their arrival in Imphal, the state capital, on 21 April following a court order for temporary protection.
The seven are among hundreds of Myanmar citizens, including policemen, military and lawmakers, who are seeking refuge in the Indian states of Manipur and Mizoram after fleeing a brutal crackdown following a military coup on February 1 this year.
Many of those who fled are members of the anti-coup civil disobedience movement, which has been protesting to demand the restoration of Myanmar’s civilian government.
More than 750 protesters were killed in the campaign, according to reports, even as ethnic armed groups continued to confront the military government.
In their order issued 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 a clear and deliberate intention to breach and violate our domestic laws. They fled their country of origin under imminent threat to their lives and freedom. “
Citing media coverage from Myanmar, the judges said, “There is no doubt that these people from Myanmar, given their links to the banned organization Mizima Media, face an imminent threat to their lives and freedom if they return.”
They said, “This court finds it fair and appropriate to extend protection under Article 21 of the Constitution to these seven persons from Myanmar and give them safe passage to New Delhi to enable them to obtain appropriate protection from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees,” Delhi and Manipur, to facilitate their travel.
Nandita Haksar, a prominent human rights lawyer, lodged the petition on behalf of the seven Myanmar citizens, claiming that they could be deported to Myanmar by the Assam Rifles, the paramilitary force that guards the India-Myanmar border.
The seven people included Sit Thao Ong, a 43-year-old video journalist, web designer Chen San Lun, Baw Khan Thun, a website official, and his wife and three children.
Haksar cited a letter issued by the Indian Ministry of the Interior on 10 March of the states bordering Myanmar and the Assam Rifles, and their directive to stem the flow of “illegal immigrants” from Myanmar.
The letter said that India is not a signatory to the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol, and therefore is not obligated to provide shelter to the citizens of Myanmar.
On Monday, Haksar told Al Jazeera that they will soon take a flight to New Delhi.
“They wanted to go to Delhi and hope that they will now obtain the certificate of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees,” she said, adding that the agency insists that the applicants are in the city to process their asylum applications.
Thun and his wife took refuge in India in 2007 during the Saffron Revolution in Myanmar, and Haksar’s petition and court order are noted. They returned after the situation had returned to normal in Myanmar.
The Saffron Revolution was a series of mass protests in 2007, sparked by rising fuel prices, but it quickly took the form of a movement against the military rulers. Buddhist monks were at the forefront of the protests, hence the name saffron, referring to their robe.
In March of this year, as the situation in Myanmar deteriorated and the army began cracking down on dissident journalists, Thun, along with his family and colleagues, packed their bags to flee.
After two days of bus trips and a short drive across the hills, the Seven crossed the border and arrived in Moreh on March 22.
There was a shutdown of the media. “The army has started arresting the media,” Aung told Al-Jazeera, explaining the circumstances of his escape. He claimed that he was on the army’s list of wanted journalists and said that there was an arrest warrant pending against him.
Ong and his colleagues covered the aftermath of the February coup. “We were broadcasting it live,” Aung said.
On March 8, the military revoked the publishing and broadcasting license of Mazima.
“They raided our main broadcast office in Yangon on March 9th and took everything they found,” Soe Myint, founder of Mizzima, said in an email to Al Jazeera from an unknown location.
Mint said he was also active in the 1988 pro-democracy uprising against the military government, which he brutally crushed. In 1990, he was one of two people involved in the hijacking of a Thai Airways plane that was diverted to the Indian city of Kolkata.
The two demanded the police to allow them to speak at a press conference to tell the world what was happening in Burma (the former name of Myanmar).
Myint later founded the news organization Mizzima in 1998 in New Delhi where he was living as a refugee.
Myint said that three journalists from Mezima were arrested in February and March, while three other former employees, including the co-founder and wife of Myint Thin Thin Ong, were arrested on April 8.
Meanwhile, the small border town of Moreh continues to host more than 1,000 Myanmar citizens, most of them from the Sajing Division, which has seen violent clashes between protesters and the army.
Tamu, a town on the other side of Moreh, has been quiet over the past few days, according to Gangman Hooke, head of the Hill Tribal Council, a community organization that represents a section of the local tribal communities that live in this part of Manipur.
But people are still afraid. He said. “The center and the state must do something for these people.”
Local residents complain that the state government has not provided any support and left it to community organizations to take care of the citizens of Myanmar.
In neighboring Mizoram, the number of Myanmar citizens seeking shelter has risen to more than 3,000, according to local community organizations.
The Manipur Supreme Court order raised the hopes of many of these Myanmar citizens that they would be able to seek asylum in India.
Bernard El Changti, president of the non-governmental organization United for Democratic Myanmar, 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 are considering further measures.
“It should also be noted that although there is no clear policy or framework for refugee protection in India, it grants asylum to a large number of refugees from neighboring countries. Usually India respects UNHCR’s recognition of the status of these asylum seekers,” Especially from Afghanistan and Myanmar.
Haksar had hoped that India would grant asylum to “real refugees”.
The importance of this is that the Supreme Court made a distinction between a refugee and an immigrant. This is a very important distinction. Anyone who is a refugee should be able to benefit from it. “