The Human Rights Watch on Wednesday called on the Indian government to release all the detained asylum seekers from Myanmar, who fled their country after a military coup in February.

The organisation cited media reports to note that about 16,000 Myanmar citizens had crossed into Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh Mizoram and Nagaland.

The Human Rights Watch said that Indian border guards had not pushed back arrivals from Myanmar and states in the North East were willing to rehabilitate them. However, the organisation said there was no clarity from the central government about the status of the refugees.

The organisation flagged the difficulties faced by the refugees from Myanmar while trying to apply for refugee status in India.

“The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in India requires asylum seekers to travel to one of the agency’s designated centers, none of which are in the northeast, to apply for refugee status,” the Human Rights Watch said. “As a result, thousands of Myanmar nationals in India fleeing persecution remain vulnerable to arrest, detention, and possible return to Myanmar.”

The human rights group said India’s failure to provide a fair asylum-seeking process to the refugees was a violation of international legal obligations.

“Prime Minister Narendra Modi needs to ensure that the Indian government meets its obligations under international refugee law,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Indian authorities should treat those from Myanmar seeking refuge in India with dignity and provide them protection from further abuse.”

The Human Rights Watch sought an inquiry into the deaths of two Myanmar refugees, who were kept in judicial custody in Manipur. Ma Myint, 46, and Mukhai, 40, had died of Covid-19 in June, The Indian Express reported.

Myint and Mukhai was arrested in March along with 27 others for reportedly entering India without proper documents. They were charged under the Foreigners Act. Manipur-based Human Rights Alert alleged that the women died because of lack of medical attention and food.

The group had written a letter to Manipur Human Rights Commission, seeking a magisterial inquiry into the deaths.

Myanmar coup

The military coup in Myanmar on February 1 followed the landslide victory of the National League for Democracy and Aung San Suu Kyi in the national elections in November 2020, with the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party faring poorly in its key strongholds.

The country’s military refused to accept the government, citing unsubstantiated allegations of fraud. It was also announced that the coup was the result of the government’s failure to delay the November election despite the outbreak of Covid-19.

Security forces in Myanmar cracked down heavily on those who agitated against the coup, drawing global criticism. According to Human Rights Watch, security forces in Myanmar have killed more than 900 people and detained over 5,300 activists, journalists and politicians since February.

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