Updated: July 28, 2021 09:51 AM GMT
Rohingya refugees from Myanmar collect food at a camp in Chennai, India. (Photo: AFP)
An international rights group has called on India to immediately free all detained Myanmar asylum seekers and investigate the deaths of two women from Covid-19 while in judicial custody in Manipur state.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the two women from Myanmar, 46-year-old Ma Myint and 40-year-old Mukhai, had died in June.
The two were among 29 Myanmar nationals arrested on March 31 under the Foreigners Act for entering the country without valid travel documents.
They were only taken to a hospital once their illness was critical and both died within three days of being admitted, said Human Rights Alert (HRA), an Imphal-based rights group which has been demanding an official inquiry into the “custodial deaths.”
At least 13 other Myanmar asylum seekers also contracted Covid-19 while in detention in the northeastern state.
On July 2, HRA had written to the state human rights commission of Manipur alleging government officials were not providing immigration detainees with food and adequate health care. It said they were surviving on the charity of local civil society groups.
The Indian government should uphold its international legal obligations and work with the UN refugee agency to ensure prompt access to international protection mechanisms
HRW South Asia director Meenakshi Ganguly said: “People from Myanmar fleeing threats to their lives and liberty should be offered a safe haven in India, not detained and deprived of their rights.”
About 16,000 people from Myanmar have crossed into four bordering states — Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh — in India’s northeast region fleeing violence and repression in the aftermath of the military coup on Feb. 1.
The military junta in Myanmar has killed at least 920 people and detained more than 5,300 activists, journalists, civil servants and politicians. Many are in hiding for fear of being arrested, according to media reports.
“The Indian government should uphold its international legal obligations and work with the UN refugee agency to ensure prompt access to international protection mechanisms,” Ganguly said.
The Indian government has ordered a check on the flow of illegal immigrants from Myanmar into its northeastern region even while calling for the release of all detained leaders in Myanmar at the United Nations Security Council.
The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in India requires asylum seekers to travel to one of the agency’s designated centers, none of which are in the northeast. As a result, thousands of Myanmar nationals in India remain vulnerable to arrest, detention and possible return to Myanmar.
HRW said India’s failure to provide fair asylum procedures or to allow UNHCR to make refugee determinations for those fleeing Myanmar because of the threat to their lives “violates the government’s international legal obligations.”
“Indian authorities should treat those from Myanmar seeking refuge in India with dignity and provide them protection from further abuse,” Ganguly said.