India urged to probe custodial deaths of women refugees from Myanmar

New Delhi, July 28 (EFE).- Human Rights Watch Wednesday urged India to probe the custodial deaths of two women refugees who had fled brutal military repression in Myanmar.

The two women, Ma Myint, 46, and Mukhai, 40, died in custody in the northeastern state of Manipur from Covid-19 in June, the global rights watchdog said.

They were among 29 Myanmar nationals arrested on Mar.31 by Indian police for entering the country without valid travel documents and put in judicial custody.

Citing a local nonprofit, Human Rights Alert, the watchdog alleged that the detainees were not receiving adequate health care and food.

The authorities hospitalized them after they got critical, according to Human Rights Alert. They died within three days of being admitted.

At least 13 other asylum seekers also contracted Covid-19 in detention in Manipur.

The watchdog urged the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to release all detained Myanmar asylum seeks and work with the United Nations refugee agency to ensure they get access to international protection mechanisms.

The rights body noted that India’s failure to provide fair asylum procedures and allow the UN to make refugee determinations for those fleeing Myanmar because of the threat to their lives violated the government’s international legal obligations.

“Prime Minister Modi needs to ensure that the government meets its obligations under international refugee law,” HRW South Asia director Meenakshi Ganguly said.

“Indian authorities should treat those from Myanmar seeking refuge in India with dignity and provide them protection from further abuse.”

Since the military coup on Feb.1, tens of thousands of Myanmar nationals have fled the country to escape the violent crackdown.

Approximately 16,000 Myanmar nationals have crossed into India in the four border states – Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, and Arunachal Pradesh, HRW said, citing media reports.

Those fleeing include parliament members, civil servants, military and police officials, civil society, and human rights activists. Most are in hiding, afraid of being arrested.

“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,” said Ganguly said.

“The Indian government should uphold its international legal obligations and work with the UN refugee agency to ensure prompt access to international protection mechanisms.”

India is not a party to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol.

But the international legal principle of nonrefoulement is recognized as customary international law binding on all countries.

Nonrefoulement prohibits countries from returning anyone to a country where they may face persecution, torture, or other serious harm.

Since 2017, India has repeatedly sought to return ethnic Rohingya to Myanmar despite serious allegations of crimes against humanity and genocide by the military.

In March, India detained dozens of Rohingya with plans to deport them to Myanmar. In April, the Supreme Court rejected a plea to stop their deportation.

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