Indian authorities in Manipur state force Myanmar refugees out of border villagers

Aid workers say their deportation will place civilian lives in jeopardy.
By RFA Burmese
2024.05.17
Indian authorities in Manipur state force Myanmar refugees out of border villagers A screenshot of a post on X about the deportation of Myanmar refugees by N. Biren Singh, chief minister of northeastern India's Manipur state, May 2, 2024.
@NBirenSingh via X

Myanmar refugees who fled civil war and sought refuge in border villages in neighboring India's Manipur state said they are being deported by local authorities and a paramilitary group.

Manipur state Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren Singh said in a May 8 Facebook post that the deportation of nearly 5,500 “illegal immigrants” was underway, though he did not specifically refer to the Myanmar refugees. Of that number, authorities had collected the biometric data of almost 5,200 of them, he said.

The Indian government has a policy to collect fingerprints of all foreigners residing in India, including refugees deemed “illegal immigrants,” for security purposes.

Thousands of civilians from Chin state and Sagaing region poured over the Indian border and into Manipur state to escape armed conflict between junta troops and rebel forces that followed the military’s seizure of power in a February 2021 coup d’état.

Another 60,000 Myanmar civilians from Chin state have crossed the border and sought shelter in Mizoram state, south of Manipur, according to Chin civil society groups in Myanmar and aid workers.

The Mizoram government, however, has decided not to repatriate any of the Chin refugees until the situation there stabilizes. Many ethnic Mizos in Mizoram believe that they and the Chins belong to the same ethnic group.

A screenshot of a post on X about the deportation of Myanmar refugees by N. Biren Singh, chief minister of northeastern India's Manipur state, May 2, 2024. (@NBirenSingh via X)
A screenshot of a post on X about the deportation of Myanmar refugees by N. Biren Singh, chief minister of northeastern India's Manipur state, May 2, 2024. (@NBirenSingh via X)

Singh’s announcement contradicted an earlier statement by Indian Home Affairs Minister Amit Shah that the government would not repatriate the refugees until peace had been restored in Myanmar.

India is not a signatory of the U.N. refugee convention, which states that refugees should not be returned to countries where they face serious threats to their life or freedom.

'A disregard of lives'

Soon after Singh’s comment, village administrators and soldiers from the Assam Rifles, a paramilitary force that protects India 's northeastern border, began removing 30 refugee households, forcing them into a forest near border post 74, said a Myanmar refugee who declined to be named for safety reasons.

“We were forced to remove our shelters and leave there,” said the refugee who fled Htan Ta Bin village in Myanmar after it was burned down. “Now we have to live in a yard.”

An official from the Burma Refugees Committee–Kabaw Valley, an organization that helps people fleeing to Manipur from war-torn Myanmar, objected to the refugees being deported and said they have not received humanitarian aid.

“They crossed the border because of the conflicts with junta troops who threatened their lives,” said the aid worker who declined to be identified out of fear for his safety.

“They were arrested and handed over to the Myanmar junta,” he said. “It is a disregard of the lives of displaced persons, and we object to it.”

Salai Dokhar, a New Delhi-based activist who runs India for Myanmar, a group that raises awareness of the rights of refugees, said it would not be safe for the refugees to return if biometric data collected by the Manipur government is handed over to the Myanmar junta.

Before repatriating Myanmar citizens, the Indian government sends immigration documents or background information to the ruling junta based on refugee testimonies or documents they possess.

A screenshot of a post on X about the deportation of Myanmar refugees by N. Biren Singh, chief minister of northeastern India's Manipur state, May 2, 2024. (@NBirenSingh via X)
A screenshot of a post on X about the deportation of Myanmar refugees by N. Biren Singh, chief minister of northeastern India's Manipur state, May 2, 2024. (@NBirenSingh via X)

“If they are handed over [to the junta] along with the biometric information, then the security of the deported persons would be worrisome,” he said.

Dokhar also said he would question officials about the contradictory statements on Myanmar refugee deportation made by Singh and Shah.

Neither the Myanmar Embassy in New Delhi nor the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees responded to RFA’s emailed requests for comments by the time of publishing.

Call to stop deportations

The International Commission of Jurists, a human rights NGO based in Geneva, Switzerland, called on the Manipur government to immediately stop the forced deportations and reconsider treatment of the refugees.

On May 2, Singh announced on social media the deportation of 77 detained “illegal immigrants” from Myanmar, calling it the “first phase.”

Of these, 38 women and children were handed over to Myanmar’s junta. However, the Manipur government has not yet released the remaining 39 from prison.

More than 60 Myanmar refugees arrested by Indian authorities at the border are still being held in prisons, according to volunteer aid workers concerned about the refugees being deported.

Translated by Aung Naing for RFA Burmese. Edited by Roseanne Gerin and Joshua Lipes.

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