Influx of Myanmarese refugees at Indian, Thai borders likely just the beginning: UNSG's special envoy on Myanmar

Yoshita Singh
·4-min read

United Nations, Apr 1 (PTI) The influx of refugees from Myanmar at the Indian and Thai borders and elsewhere is “ominous' and likely just the beginning, UN Secretary General’s special envoy on Myanmar has told the Security Council, warning that regional security could deteriorate further and no country in the region would want a “failed state” as their neighbour.

Myanmar's military toppled the country's government on February 1 and seized power for one year, detaining top political figures, including de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and President U Win Myint. The coup sparked protests and other acts of civil disobedience, leading to the deaths of hundreds in military crackdown.

The 15-nation Council held closed consultations on Myanmar on Wednesday, days after the country witnessed the bloodiest day since the demonstrations against the February 1 coup began, with security forces killing at least 107 individuals – including seven children, on March 27.

In her remarks to the closed meeting of the Council, obtained by PTI, Special Envoy of Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Myanmar Christine Schraner Burgener said that a robust international response requires a unified regional position, especially with the neighbouring countries leveraging their influence towards stability in Myanmar.

“The regional security and economic consequences are getting worse and could deteriorate further. The influx of refugees at the Indian and Thai borders and elsewhere is ominous and likely just the beginning,” she said.

Burgener said she intends to visit the region soon, hopefully next week, in continuation of her close consultations with members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and other leaders.

“I firmly believe that no ASEAN countries or others sharing their borders with Myanmar would want a failed state as their neighbour,” she said.

Burgener told the Council that she counts on the regional actors to play their 'unique and important” roles to convince the military what they are aiming for will not work and help navigate an orderly and peaceful way out of this situation.

The special envoy called on those who have access to the Tatmadaw, Myanmar’s armed forces, to let them know how severely its actions have damaged the reputation of the country, 'has become a threat to the future of its citizens as well as the security of neighbouring countries.' She stressed it is important 'we do not lend legitimacy to its rule or recognise its power or attempts by the military to create a façade of “business as usual'.

Myanmar shares an over 1,600 km long unfenced and porous land border with India as well as a maritime boundary in the Bay of Bengal. Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram share an international boundary with Myanmar. Arunachal Pradesh shares a 520-km border with Myanmar while Nagaland shares a 215-km border with the country.

Last week, the Manipur government issued a circular to the Deputy Commissioners (DCs) of districts bordering Myanmar not to open camps to provide food and shelter to refugees fleeing the neighbouring country after the coup but withdrew it three days later to avoid potential public anger.

While advising the DCs to 'politely turn away' those trying to sneak into India, Special Secretary (Home) H Gyan Prakash wrote that in case of grievous injuries, medical attention may be provided on humanitarian considerations.

With public anger mounting in neighbouring Mizoram against attempts to thwart the entry of refugees from Myanmar, the officer issued another advisory on Monday, saying the contents of the previous letter had been 'misconstrued'.

On March 10, the Ministry of Home Affairs wrote to the chief secretaries of Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh and the Assam Rifles guarding the Indo-Myanmar border, to check the influx of people from Myanmar and also to identify the illegal migrants and deport them.

Officials said this week that the number of Myanmarese nationals taking refuge in Mizoram has crossed 1,000 since February’s military coup, and at least 100 were sent back but they have again sneaked into the state.

Mizoram shares a 510-km-long porous border with Myanmar's Chin state and most of the Myanmarese nationals who have taken refuge in the state belong to the Chin, also known as the Zo, community.

India’s Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador T S Tirumurti had said at a February informal meeting on Myanmar in the General Assembly that India shares a land and maritime border with Myanmar and has direct stakes in the maintenance of peace and stability.

He had said that the recent developments in Myanmar were therefore being closely monitored by India and New Delhi remained deeply concerned that the gains made by Myanmar over the last decades on the path towards democracy, should not get undermined.

'India as a close friend and neighbour of Myanmar and its people, will continue to closely monitor the situation and will remain in discussion with like-minded countries so that the hopes and aspirations of the people are respected.

“Restoring democratic order should be the priority of all stakeholders in Myanmar. The international community must lend its constructive support to the people of Myanmar at this critical juncture,” Tirumurti had said. PTI YAS CPS AKJ CPS