The UN Human Rights Office for Southeast Asia on Thursday (1 Apr) called on States in the region to protect all those fleeing violence and persecution in Myanmar, and ensure that refugees and undocumented migrants are not forcibly returned – given the rapidly deteriorating human rights situation inside the country.
Since Myanmar’s military seized power in a coup on 1 February, at least 510 peaceful protesters have been killed by security forces, while 2,600 others have been detained – many of whom were held incommunicado or forcibly disappeared.
Night raids, mass arrests, and killings have become daily occurrences throughout the country. De facto military authorities have increasingly resorted to heavy weaponry – such as rocket-propelled and fragmentation grenades, heavy machine guns, and snipers – to kill demonstrators in massive numbers.
New fighting has also flared between the military and some ethnic armed organisations, including in Kayin state, where recent airstrikes have forced thousands of civilians to flee.
Civil servants, students, political activists, and others who have opposed the coup – including defectors from the police and military – have fled Myanmar, while the UN Human Rights Office has received reports that some individuals seeking safety in the region have been forced to return to the country.
“No one should face the risk of being returned to Myanmar when their lives, safety or fundamental human rights are threatened. Now is the time for us to stand in solidarity with the people of Myanmar,” said Cynthia Veliko, Southeast Asia Regional Representative of the UN Human Rights Office in Bangkok.
“In light of binding obligations under international refugee and human rights law, we call on all countries to ensure that all those seeking asylum are able to access the protection to which they are entitled under international law,” she added.
Ensure effective search and rescue, and refrain from intercepting or pushing back the refugees
In its statement, the UN Human Rights Office also called on States in the region to ensure effective search and rescue, and refrain from intercepting or pushing back those who are trying to access sea or land routes to reach safety.
It noted that it is aware of reports that at least one boat carrying refugees from Myanmar is currently stranded in the Andaman Sea, unable to access safe disembarkation options.
“Coastal States and others should co-operate to identify a safe place to disembark these vulnerable people and ensure rights-based and regional solutions are found,” said the UN Human Rights Office.
It went on to say that millions of migrants from Myanmar live and work in countries across the region, but many may be fearful of returning to renew their visas or otherwise maintain a regular immigration status.
Suspend deportations while the crisis in Myanmar continues
As such, the UN Human Rights Office stated that countries should consider putting in place measures to avoid migrants from Myanmar falling into situations of irregularity.
“In so doing, they could draw inspiration from a range of innovative practices implemented in the recent context of the pandemic to ensure the regular status of visitors and migrants on their territories,” it noted.
Given the grave human rights situation in Myanmar, the UN Human Rights Office asserted that States in the region should also suspend deportations while the crisis in the country continues, and look to safe, non-custodial alternatives to the detention of undocumented migrants.
It added that avoiding immigration detention is also an important practical response in light of the heightened risk of COVID-19 transmission within detention centers.
“Migrants from Myanmar, who have contributed so much to our communities, now need us to stand by them,” said Veliko.
“We call on countries in the region to suspend deportations of Myanmar migrants who are undocumented or otherwise in irregular situations, and to provide them with a secure legal status while their country remains in crisis,” she concluded.