EXPULSION OF CHIN-BURMESE ASYLUM SEEKERS FROM INDIA

(New York, August 17, 2000) -- Human Rights Watch reports:

We are concerned that since 25 July 2000 there has been a series of action against refugees in the Mizoram state of India. We have learnt from reliable sources, which have been re-confirmed by the newspaper reports that arrests and detention of hundreds of refugees in the border state of Mizoram is being carried out very vigorously.

On July 28, Mr. U. Than Sein, an exiled member of Myanmar Parliament of the NLD party and two other activists of All Burma Students Democratic Front were arrested. Though they were released on July 29, the fate of Mr. U than Sein's son and daughter-in-law who were arrested along with him is still unknown.
Though the number of arrests has not been released by the police to the public, it is estimated to be around a thousand. This number may increase in the coming days. It is reported that most of the arrested Chin Burmese refugees have been charged with illegal entry into India under the "Foreigner's Act" and that they would be deported to Myanmar (Burma).

Mizoram state borders the Chin state in Myanmar and about 40,000 to 50,000 Chin refugees have taken shelter in the Mizoram state due to military repression and the civil warlike situation in the Chin areas. Majority of the Chin ethnic people are Christians. There are several incidents and reports of desecration of places of worship by the army controlled by SPDC who are predominantly Buddhists. There are instances, of forced conversions, mass instances of slave labour, looting of homes, rape of women by the Myanmar army has created an exodus of Chins crossing into Mizoram state in India.

The increased activities of identifying Chin Burmese nationals in Mizoram state, their arrests and detention has to be seen in the wake of hectic parleys between military heads in India and Burma to work together on border issues. Government to government strategic relationship between Burma and India cannot compromise the real issue of refugees who have fled for their lives in to neighbouring country (India).

According to information received, the arrests and detention of hundreds of people has taken place especially in Aizwal and five police stations have been identified where the refugees are being held. The names of the police stations where the refugees are kept after arrests are: Babutlang, Bawngkawn, Vaiwakawn, Kulikawn & Luangmual. About 200 people are in these police stations. We also have reports that due to lack of space in the five police stations, central jail in Tandril is also being used.

The refugees have been denied permission to see the relatives nor have they been allowed to take their belongings. There is a threat of forcible repatriation into Myanmar (Burma) which means the Indian army and Mizoram police will hand over these Chin-Burmese refugees to Myanmar (Burmese) army. This heightens the danger of imprisonment, torture and even death in Myanmar if they are handed over to them. Though the arrests and detentions have been happening since 25 July 2000, there seems to be no positive intervention to protect the rights of the refugees by UNHCR or the
Indian government.

Human rights activists of India and other South Asian countries are concerned about this situation and seek the intervention of human rights defenders from all over the world to stop the forcible detention and expulsion of the Chin Burmese refugees from the Mizoram state of India into Myanmar (Burma). We request you to urge The Government of India to intervene and protect the rights of refugees on humanitarian grounds. We also request you to urge the UNHCR to take positive steps in this regard and provide protection to the refugees who are under the threat of deportation.

The Indian government has not signed the 1951 U.N. Convention relating to the Status of Refugees or its 1967 Protocol, nor does it have any domestic refugee law. The Foreigners Act, under which the Chin are being expelled, makes no distinction between illegal immigrants and refugees. The Indian government is, however, bound by the international principle of non-refoulement, which prohibits the forcible return of refugees to situations in which they would be subject to persecution and where their lives and freedom could be threatened.

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(PUCL Bulletin, Sept., 2000)