Thousands of Burmese refugees flee to Thailand, India to escape crisis


As the bloody crackdowns on anti-coup protesters in Myanmar continues, thousands of the country’s refugees seek safe haven in neighbouring India and Thailand, with authorities of both countries trying to block new arrivals, fearing that a steady flow may become a flood.

A top UN official warned last week that the Myanmar is “on the verge of spiralling into a failed state” if action is not taken soon to stem the bloodshed.

Last week, Thailand reportedly tried to push thousands of people fleeing Myanmar back across their border, after airstrikes on villages held by forces from the Karen ethnic minority.

Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha admitted the country was braced for more arrivals, the Associated Press reported.

“We don’t want to have mass migration into our territory, but we will consider human rights, too,” he said. “We have prepared some places, but we don’t want to talk about the preparation of refugee centres at the moment. We won’t go that far.”

In India, at least one border state backed away from an order last month to “politely turn away” any refugees attempting to cross. The home ministry of Manipur said its instructions had been “misconstrued”.

A COVID-19 outbreak in the Chinese border city of Ruili, which authorities said they had traced back to virus cases imported from Myanmar, was another reminder of the risks of large cross-border movements of people in a pandemic era.

The UN’s refugee agency has highlighted Myanmar’s neighbours’ “decades-long history” of protecting refugees from the country, and issued a pointed warning that it is illegal under international law to block people seeking asylum.

“Children, women and men fleeing for their lives should be given sanctuary,” said Gillian Triggs, assistant high commissioner for protection at the UNHCR.

“As the situation in Myanmar deteriorates further, we call on states to continue their lifesaving humanitarian tradition of safeguarding the lives of all those forced to flee.”

In India’s Mizoram state no reminders have been needed. Politicians and local residents have welcomed with open arms more than a thousand people who have hiked through forests from Myanmar and waded across rivers to seek sanctuary.

There is huge sympathy with both the protesters’ cause, and those who have fled over the border to Mizoram. Most refugees are members of the same ethnic group as local residents, known as Chin in Myanmar and Mizos in India.

A large number of them are policemen, who fled after refusing to obey orders to shoot at their own people during the protests, officials said.

At least 550 civilians have died, including 46 children, in protests that have shaken Myanmar’s major cities since the military took power in a February coup, a leading human rights group has said. More than 2,750 people have also been detained or sentenced, according to Myanmar’s Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

Despite the crackdown, protesters have continued to pour onto the country’s streets, demanding the military respect the results of democratic elections held late last year, which gave opposition parties a landslide majority.

With protesters determined to keep challenging the government, and fears the situation in Myanmar could escalate into full-blown civil war, some in the region are already preparing for many new arrivals. (Source: The Guardian)