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Protect All Those Fleeing Myanmar, UN Offices Urge Countries In The Region


The United Nations human rights office (OHCHR)
and the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) have called on Myanmar’s
neighbouring countries to offer refuge and protection to all
those fleeing violence and persecution, as the crisis in
Myanmar enters its third month.

In addition
to the political strife across the country, renewed
fighting
between Myanmar’s military and ethnic armed
organizations in some border areas, including airstrikes in
Kayin province, are driving people to flee within the
country and across borders.

Gillian Triggs, Assistant
High Commissioner for Protection at UNHCR, said in a press
note
that “it is vital that anyone crossing the
border, seeking asylum in another country, is able to access
it”.

“Children, women and men fleeing for their
lives should be given sanctuary. They must not be returned
to a place where their lives or freedom may be at risk. This
principle
of non-refoulement
is a cornerstone of international law
and is binding on all states”, she said.

Night
raids, killings ‘daily occurrences’

The situation
across Myanmar has deteriorated
rapidly
since the military
coup
on 1 February. According to OHCHR, at
least 510 peaceful protesters have been killed by the
security forces, and over 2,600 are in detentions, including
many held incommunicado or forcibly
disappeared.

“Night raids, mass arrests and killings
have become daily occurrences throughout the country”, the
OHCHR South-East Asia Regional Office said in a news
release
on Thursday.

“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”, it added.

The crackdown
has also claimed the lives of at least 35 children and left
countless more with serious injuries. Millions have also
been directly or indirectly exposed to traumatizing scenes
of violence, threatening their mental health and emotional
wellbeing, UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said
earlier this week.

On Wednesday, Christine Schraner
Burgener, UN Special Envoy on Myanmar, warned
that the security and economic consequences of the crisis in
the wider region are worsening, and the influx of refugees
at the Indian and Thai borders as well as elsewhere
“ominous and likely just the beginning”.

‘Stand
in solidarity’ with people of Myanmar

OHCHR also
said that it received reports that some individuals, who
fled Myanmar in search of safety in the region have been
forced to return to the country.

Cynthia Veliko,
South-East Asia Regional Representative of the UN High
Commissioner for Human Rights underscored
that “no one should face the risk of being returned to
Myanmar when their lives, safety or fundamental human rights
are threatened”.

“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.

“Now is the time
for us to stand in solidarity with the people of
Myanmar.”

States in the region should also 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, the UN human rights office
added.

‘History of providing
protection’

UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner
Triggs also highlighted that Myanmar’s neighbours have a
“decades-long history” of providing protection and
assistance to refugees.

“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”, she urged.

Ms. Triggs
also noted that it is a “proven fact” that humane border
practices can be upheld amid public health and other border
control measures, to ensure that people in need of
protection can access territory and asylum.

Across the
region, UNHCR and partner organizations stand ready to
step-up support to national and local authorities to ensure
that refugees receive the protection they need, she
added.

IOM
2016/Ko OO According to estimates one in four people in
Myanmar are migrants, either internal or international. In
this file photo, migrant workers commute to their workplace
in the Mandalay region.

‘Suspend
deportations’ while Myanmar is in crisis

The UN
human rights office also urged countries to put in place
measures to ensure migrants
from Myanmar
– millions of whom live and work across
the region – do not fall into situations of irregularity,
as many may be fearful of returning to renew their
visas.

“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”, Ms. Veliko said.

OHCHR also
called on the countries to look to safe, non-custodial
alternatives to the detention of undocumented
migrants.

Avoiding immigration detention is also an
important practical response in light of the heightened risk
of COVID-19
transmission within detention centres, the office
added.

UN ‘committed to staying and delivering’
for people

Also on Thursday, the UN Country Team
(UNCT) in Myanmar reiterated
its commitment to “staying and delivering for the people
of Myanmar at this challenging time”.

The UNCT in
Myanmar consists of some 21 UN agencies and offices, which
in addition to their regular programming, have also been providing
humanitarian assistance
to nearly a million people –
who were identified at the start of the 2021, including more
than 350,000 internally displaced
people.

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