South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR), a regional network of Human Rights Defenders, is deeply concerned about the wellbeing of the Myanmar nationals who have fled to India due to the violence ensued since 1 February 2021 for protesting against the military coup in Myanmar. SAHR is further concerned of the impact of the influx of refugees on the host community in the northeastern states of India.
It is reported that approximately 16,000 people from Myanmar are being sheltered in the three Indian states of Mizoram, Manipur and Nagaland. The official numbers have not yet been revealed and it is expected there will be more people entering India through the 1,600km long porous border.
Previously, the stern stand taken by the Federal Government in India against harbouring any person fleeing from Myanmar, was retracted due to the large outcry against it. Reportedly, the government has provided special passage to several Myanmar’s ‘asylum seekers’ to reach New Delhi to speak about their issues to the UNHCR. The court order which facilitated this move observed that the state respects UNHCR’s recognition of asylum seekers mainly from Afghanistan and Myanmar. However, SAHR firmly perceives that given the pandemic containment period, placing the onus on the displaced Myanmar nationals who flee their native country, to travel all the way to New Delhi to register at the UNHRC as unacceptable.
India is not a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention of 1951 or its 1967 Protocol and it does not have a clear refugee policy. It is commendable that activists and civil society organizations along with the host community in the northeastern states are looking after the refugees even amidst the present COVID-19 pandemic wreaking havoc across the country. This effort definitely needs the support from the Indian in a timely and appropriate manner.
SAHR is also concerned of the pressure this influx has created on the host community. The possibility of resistance fighters training in the Indian soil and the potential illegal arms trade thriving in the area, existence of armed insurgent groups opposing the Indian government in the northeastern state and connection of narcotic trade from the east Asia in the context would compromise the security of the displaced people from Myanmar as well as the host community. Consequently, in the future the people of northeast India will also have to bear the brunt of counter insurgency strategies, defence against narcotic and crime in the border areas as well as action carried out to balance China’s effects in Myanmar by the government of India as well.
With the above concerns, SAHR urges the Government of India and its relevant authorities to immediately facilitate its fullest support to the northeastern states to provide shelter for the people fleeing Myanmar and to avoid any crisis for basic necessities such as food and health. It firmly advocates the UNHCR to open sub offices in the northeastern states to expedite formal proceedings for these fleeing people. Simultaneously, it is imperative to cater to the welfare of the host community in the border areas. SAHR strongly believes that India, as a regional power, should facilitate efforts to bring about democratic governance in Myanmar, a call by the majority of the citizens in Myanmar and work towards ending this humanitarian crisis in the region.