The Manipur High Court has directed safe passage of 7 Myanmar nationals from Moreh area to capital city of Imphal in the interim that the case is decided. The bench of Chief Justice Sanjay Kumar and Justice Lanusungkum Jamir observed that even if India was not party to the Refugee convention, Article 21 would be violated if these Myanmar nationals are forced to return to a country where they are liable to be subjected to persecution.
Nandita Haksar, the petitioner, had brought before the court the cause of 7 Myanmar nationals, 4 adults and 3 children presently under refuge at Moreh, Tengnoupal who wish to safely reach Delhi to seek protection from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
On April 17, the Court had suo moto impleaded Central Ministries of Home Affairs, Defence, and External Affairs. Meanwhile the petitioner sought interim relief in the form of making necessary arrangements to bring the Myanmar nationals from Moreh to Imphal in terms of the March 29 order of the Manipur Home Department which made it clear that the state was taking all humanitarian steps, including taking injured Myanmar nationals to Imphal for providing them aid
However, the Assistant Solicitor General, S Suresh relied on the March 10 letter issued by Central Ministry of Home Affairs that steps should be taken to prevent possible illegal influx from Myanmar into Indian territory and to initiate legal proceedings against illegal migrants.
The court observed that it was conscious of the fact that India is not a signatory to the Geneva Refugee Convention, 1951, or the New York Protocol of 1967 but at the same time it is party to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and also the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The court held, “The principle against refoulement, i.e., the forcible return of refugees to a country where they are liable to be subjected to persecution, can prima facie be read into Article 21 of the Indian Constitution”. The court pointed out that protection afforded by Article 21 of the Indian Constitution is not limited to citizens and can be availed by non-citizens also.
The court ordered that in the interim of the case being decided, the 7 Myanmar nationals be safely transported from Moreh to Imphal. The petitioner stated that she would accompany the Deputy Commissioner, Tengnoupal, to the location where these 7(seven) persons are in hiding so that they may be given safe transport to Imphal under appropriate escort and undertook that she would provide them boarding at her own home until then.
The court thus directed that state authorities arrange necessary security at the petitioner’s residence while the 7 persons are boarded there.
“Before they are brought to Imphal, the District authorities at Moreh are permitted to take these7(seven) individuals to the Senior Immigration Officer at Moreh for the purpose of noting their details and also obtaining their biographic and biometric particulars. Thereafter, they shall be brought safely under escort to Imphal and stationed at the residence of the petitioner/party-in-person under adequate security and guard till the next date of hearing,” the court directed.
The court has precluded authorities from taking any coercive action against them. The matter is posted for hearing on April 26 for the ASG to seek instruction from the Central Ministries.
Even as thousands continued to suffer in Myanmar amidst the ongoing military crackdown after the February 1, 2021 coup, India had sealed all entry points along its border with the country. On March 26, the Manipur government had issued an order that there should not be any camp to provide food and shelter to Myanmar nationals and no civil society group should not provide food and shelter to the refugees which was retracted amidst backlash and the subsequent order stated that the state government has been taking all “necessary humanitarian steps, including taking in some injured Myanmar refugees to the state capital Imphal for treatment.
The complete order may be read here:
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