Two years after the military coup in Myanmar, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, more than 2,900 people have been killed as a result of the junta’s crackdown on dissent. One and a half million people have been displaced, 40,000 homes have been destroyed, eight million children are no longer in school, and the UN estimates that 15 million people are in danger of hunger.
Following the coup, Myanmar citizens have been found fleeing their country for safety to Indian states such as Mizoram and Manipur, which share 404 km (251 miles) and 398 km (247 miles) respectively with Myanmar. According to a report by India for Myanmar group, an independent grassroots advocacy movement, there are about “10,000 Myanmar refugees in Manipur, 50% of whom are women and children.” And a statement by Rajya Sabha MP K Vanlalvena states that over 40,000 Myanmar refugees live in 60 camps set up in Mizoram.
However, the fate of the Myanmar Citizens who have fled their country for safety depends on the state they seek refuge in. The Mizoram government, led by Zoramthanga, had welcomed these refugees as fellow brethren invoking a common indigenous lineage and deep ethnic bonds despite the Centre’s order to close its border following the coup in Myanmar. Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) like the Young Mizo Association (YMA), the Church and Civil Society Groups, and the state government have been at the forefront of providing the refugees with food and shelter.
But in the contrasting tale, Myanmar citizens who fled to Manipur seeking safety are crackdown by the state government. Since June 2022, cases of arrest and detention are haunting the Myanmar asylum seeker. The latest of such is the death of Lamkhochon Guite, 32, from Sayarsan village of Myanmar’s Tamu Township. He was lodged at the detention centre along with 70 Myanmarese nationals arrested on 27 January from the Moreh sub-division in the border district of Tengnoupal.
It has been reported that a Myanmar activist from the Kuki Womens Rights Organisation said she had written to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) but found no help. This incident has drawn desperate appeals from rights groups to secure refugee rights for people fleeing junta atrocities since the February 2021 coup.
This unparallel and unbalanced treatment could tarnish India’s image in the international community and hinder exalting of its soft power across the South Asian Nations as the largest Democracy in the world. India’s response to the Myanmar refugee crisis will also have implications for its international reputation. Providing refuge to those fleeing persecution and violence can help enhance India’s image as a compassionate and responsible country.
India shares a long history and cultural ties with Myanmar, with many ethnic communities on both sides of the border. The relationship between Manipur and Myanmar is characterized by cultural similarities, migration, and trade.
Providing refuge to Myanmar refugees can help strengthen these ties and promote greater understanding and solidarity between the two countries. Manipur’s location makes it strategically important for India’s national security, and hosting Myanmar refugees can help maintain stability in the region. It can also prevent the destabilization of neighbouring states and help reduce the burden on other states already hosting a significant number of refugees.
The ongoing military coup in Myanmar has resulted in violence and instability, significantly increasing the number of refugees fleeing the country. India, being a neighbouring country and a major power in the region, has a moral obligation to provide refuge to those fleeing persecution and violence in Myanmar.
These unprecedented events have revived the domestic debate on refugees in India. India is home to one of the largest refugee populations in the world. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are currently more than 200,000 refugees and asylum-seekers in India, including refugees from Afghanistan, Myanmar, Somalia, and Syria. Despite this, India does not have a comprehensive refugee law that would provide legal protection and support to these vulnerable individuals.
There are several reasons why India needs a refugee law that incorporates the principle of nonrefoulement and the ethics of refugee treatment. Such a law would provide much-needed protection to refugees who are at risk of persecution and other serious harm in their home countries. The principle of nonrefoulement, which prohibits the return of refugees to their home country if they face a severe risk of harm, is a cornerstone of international refugee law. By enshrining this principle in domestic law, India would be demonstrating its commitment to protecting the rights and dignity of refugees.
A comprehensive refugee law would help address the many challenges refugees face in India. Refugees in India often struggle to access basic necessities such as food, shelter, and healthcare, and they are frequently subject to discrimination and exploitation. By providing legal protection and support to refugees, India would be better able to address these challenges and ensure that refugees can live safely and with dignity.
A refugee law incorporating the ethics of refugee treatment would enhance India’s international reputation as a country committed to upholding human rights and the rule of law. India has long been seen as a leader in the global south, and by adopting a comprehensive refugee law, it could demonstrate its commitment to addressing one of the world’s most pressing humanitarian crises.
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India needs a comprehensive refugee law that incorporates the principle of nonrefoulement and the ethics of refugee treatment. Such a law would provide legal protection and support to refugees, address their challenges, enhance India’s international reputation, and serve India’s interests. As one of the world’s largest democracies and a leader in the global south, India has an opportunity and a responsibility to demonstrate its commitment to upholding human rights and the dignity of all people, including refugees.
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