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Manipur HC orders safe passage for 7 Myanmarese to seek protection under UNHCR

 They had fled to India in February, fearing persecution as a result of the military coup that banned their media service, detaining many journalists  

Sabrangindia 04 May 2021

manipur

In a landmark judgment, the Manipur High Court has ordered for the safe passage of seven Myanmar citizens to New Delhi in order for them to seek protection under the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Chief Justice Sanjay Kumar and Justice Lanusungkum Jamir were listening to a petition concerning seven Myanmarese citizens, who entered India after the military coup in February 2021. After the coup, the military junta banned Mizzima, an established Myanmarese media and news service, and arrested/detained several of its journalists.

Of the seven people, two are journalists, and one is a video-journalist with Mizzima. The other four people include one journalist’s wife and their three minor children. They fled their country fearing persecution and physical danger after the violence that broke out after the coup. They entered India and took shelter at Moreh in Tengnoupal district, Manipur.

They sought help from the petitioner (Nandita Haskar) as they feared that they would be sent back to Myanmar by the Assam Rifles, an Indian armed force, as they entered India without proper travel documents.

On March 10, the government of India had directed the authorities of the border states in the North-East of India and the Assam Rifles to check the flow of illegal migrants coming into India from Myanmar.

Court’s observation

The Manipur High Court observed firstly, “Though India’s policy on ‘refugees’ remains rather opaque, if not obscure, and asylum seekers are straightaway branded as ‘foreigners’, if not worse, certain protections are guaranteed under Articles 14 and 21 of our Constitution even to those who are not Indian citizens.”

It said that even a foreigner in India is entitled to protection of life and personal liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. “It is in the context of Article 21 that the principle of ‘non-refoulement’ assumes great significance”, said the Bench. This principle forbids the country that receives asylum seekers (in this case, India) to send them back to the original country (Myanmar) if they feel that they are likely in danger of persecution based on “race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.”

The High Court ruled that the seven Myanmarese citizens will certainly be in danger if they are sent back to Myanmar. It said, “The media coverage that has surfaced from within Myanmar after the military coup, even if discounted to some extent, leaves this Court in no doubt that these Myanmarese persons, given their links with the banned Mizzima Media Organization, face imminent threat to their lives and liberty if they return.”

The Bench further said, “The far-reaching and myriad protections afforded by Article 21 of our Constitution, as interpreted and adumbrated by our Supreme Court time and again, would indubitably encompass the right of non-refoulement, albeit subject to the condition that the presence of such asylum seeker or refugee is not prejudicial or adverse to the security of this country.”

Therefore, the Court was of the view that even though India may not be a signatory to the Refugee Convention of 1951, its obligations under other international declarations/covenants, read with Article 21 of our Constitution, enjoins it to respect the right of an asylum seeker to seek protection from persecution and life or liberty-threatening danger elsewhere.

Noting that Refugee Status Determination (RSD) is undertaken by the UNHCR in India for conferring such status and for consequential documentation, the High Court said, “It would be essential for these seven Myanmarese persons to first approach the UNHCR at New Delhi and only thereafter, the Union of India would be in a position to take a call as to whether they can be granted refugee status and asylum in India, as was done earlier.”

The Court directed the Foreigners Regional Registration Officer (FRRO) at the Imphal airport to immediately provide them with temporary identification cards to enable them to travel to New Delhi by air, if such identity proofs are necessary.

It also importantly recorded in its order that, “The State and Central Governments shall facilitate their travel to New Delhi and shall not cause any obstruction.”

The judgment may be read here: 

 

Related:

Coup in Myanmar: Military detains Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint

Will India face the impact of US sanctions on Myanmar military companies?

Manipur HC orders safe passage for 7 Myanmarese to seek protection under UNHCR

 They had fled to India in February, fearing persecution as a result of the military coup that banned their media service, detaining many journalists  

manipur

In a landmark judgment, the Manipur High Court has ordered for the safe passage of seven Myanmar citizens to New Delhi in order for them to seek protection under the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Chief Justice Sanjay Kumar and Justice Lanusungkum Jamir were listening to a petition concerning seven Myanmarese citizens, who entered India after the military coup in February 2021. After the coup, the military junta banned Mizzima, an established Myanmarese media and news service, and arrested/detained several of its journalists.

Of the seven people, two are journalists, and one is a video-journalist with Mizzima. The other four people include one journalist’s wife and their three minor children. They fled their country fearing persecution and physical danger after the violence that broke out after the coup. They entered India and took shelter at Moreh in Tengnoupal district, Manipur.

They sought help from the petitioner (Nandita Haskar) as they feared that they would be sent back to Myanmar by the Assam Rifles, an Indian armed force, as they entered India without proper travel documents.

On March 10, the government of India had directed the authorities of the border states in the North-East of India and the Assam Rifles to check the flow of illegal migrants coming into India from Myanmar.

Court’s observation

The Manipur High Court observed firstly, “Though India’s policy on ‘refugees’ remains rather opaque, if not obscure, and asylum seekers are straightaway branded as ‘foreigners’, if not worse, certain protections are guaranteed under Articles 14 and 21 of our Constitution even to those who are not Indian citizens.”

It said that even a foreigner in India is entitled to protection of life and personal liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. “It is in the context of Article 21 that the principle of ‘non-refoulement’ assumes great significance”, said the Bench. This principle forbids the country that receives asylum seekers (in this case, India) to send them back to the original country (Myanmar) if they feel that they are likely in danger of persecution based on “race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.”

The High Court ruled that the seven Myanmarese citizens will certainly be in danger if they are sent back to Myanmar. It said, “The media coverage that has surfaced from within Myanmar after the military coup, even if discounted to some extent, leaves this Court in no doubt that these Myanmarese persons, given their links with the banned Mizzima Media Organization, face imminent threat to their lives and liberty if they return.”

The Bench further said, “The far-reaching and myriad protections afforded by Article 21 of our Constitution, as interpreted and adumbrated by our Supreme Court time and again, would indubitably encompass the right of non-refoulement, albeit subject to the condition that the presence of such asylum seeker or refugee is not prejudicial or adverse to the security of this country.”

Therefore, the Court was of the view that even though India may not be a signatory to the Refugee Convention of 1951, its obligations under other international declarations/covenants, read with Article 21 of our Constitution, enjoins it to respect the right of an asylum seeker to seek protection from persecution and life or liberty-threatening danger elsewhere.

Noting that Refugee Status Determination (RSD) is undertaken by the UNHCR in India for conferring such status and for consequential documentation, the High Court said, “It would be essential for these seven Myanmarese persons to first approach the UNHCR at New Delhi and only thereafter, the Union of India would be in a position to take a call as to whether they can be granted refugee status and asylum in India, as was done earlier.”

The Court directed the Foreigners Regional Registration Officer (FRRO) at the Imphal airport to immediately provide them with temporary identification cards to enable them to travel to New Delhi by air, if such identity proofs are necessary.

It also importantly recorded in its order that, “The State and Central Governments shall facilitate their travel to New Delhi and shall not cause any obstruction.”

The judgment may be read here: 

 

Related:

Coup in Myanmar: Military detains Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint

Will India face the impact of US sanctions on Myanmar military companies?

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