Seven Myanmar nationals, including three journalists from a Yangon-based media house, are set to travel to New Delhi to approach the India office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) after a court in the northeastern state of Manipur ordered safe passage for them on Monday.
The seven Myanmar nationals had been “hiding” in Moreh, a border town in Manipur’s Tengnoupal district, for weeks before they arrived in the state capital Imphal on April 21 following court-ordered interim protection.
The seven are among hundreds of Myanmar nationals, including policemen, military personnel and legislators, who are seeking shelter in the Indian states of Manipur and Mizoram after they fled to escape 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 (CDM), which has been protesting to demand the reinstatement of the civilian government in Myanmar.
More than 750 protesters have been killed in the crackdown, according to reports, even as ethnic armed groups continue to confront the military government.
In their order on Monday, the judges at the Manipur High Court made a distinction between migrants and refugees seeking asylum.
“They did not enter our country with the clear-cut and deliberate intention of breaking and violating our domestic laws. They fled the country of their origin under imminent threat to their lives and liberty,” the judges said.
Citing media coverage from Myanmar, the judges said there is “no doubt that these Myanmarese persons, given their links with the banned Mizzima Media Organization, face an imminent threat to their lives and liberty if they return”.
“This court finds it just and proper to extend protection under Article 21 of the Constitution to these seven Myanmarese persons and grant them safe passage to New Delhi to enable them to avail suitable protection from the UNHCR,” they said, asking the governments in New Delhi and Manipur to facilitate their travel.
Senior human rights lawyer Nandita Haksar had filed the petition on behalf of the seven Myanmar nationals, claiming they could be deported back to Myanmar by the Assam Rifles, the paramilitary force that guards the India-Myanmar border.
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 cited a March 10 letter issued by India’s home ministry to the states bordering Myanmar and the Assam Rifles, directing them to check the influx of “illegal immigrants” from Myanmar.
The letter said India is not a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention of 1951 or its 1967 protocol and hence not obliged to give the Myanmar nationals shelter.
“They wanted to go to Delhi and hopefully now they will get the UNHCR certificate,” she said, adding that the agency insists on the presence of the applicants in the city to process their asylum claims.