Fleeing coup, Myanmar refugees in India seek asylum

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MIZORAM, India (AP) – Police officers who defied the Myanmar army’s orders to shoot opponents of the coup and escaped to India are urging Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to not send them back and provide them political asylum on humanitarian grounds.

“What we wish is that until and unless the problem is solved in Myanmar, we do not want to go back there,” said one of the men, who has sought refuge in a village in the northeastern state of Mizoram that shares the border with Myanmar.

The military crackdown in Myanmar has forced scores of refugees over the border into India. India’s state and federal authorities haven’t given any figures, but some state ministers have said the refugees could be in hundreds.

One Indian village has given shelter to 34 police personnel and one firefighter who crossed into India over the last two weeks. Several Myanmar police officers say they fled after defying army orders to shoot opponents of last month’s coup. They spoke to an Associated Press journalist on condition of anonymity because of fears of retribution against family members still in Myanmar.

One of the defectors from Myanmar police who didn’t share her name told AP that the Myanmar’s army ordered them to “arrest, beat, torture the protesters” and they were “always sent to the front whenever there was protest.”

“So, we have no choice but to leave our country,” she said at an undisclosed location bordering Myanmar.

The AP has not been able to independently verify their claims, though images and accounts of the security forces’ crackdown inside Myanmar have shown intensifying violence against civilians. More than 200 people have been killed by security forces since the Feb. 1 military takeover.

India‘s federal government and the state of Mizoram are at odds over the influx of refugees. Earlier, the Mizoram government had allowed refugees to enter and provided them with food and shelter.

But last week, India’s Home Ministry told four Indian states bordering Myanmar, including Mizoram, to take measures to prevent refugees from entering India except on humanitarian grounds.

The ministry said the states were not authorized to accord refugee status to anyone entering from Myanmar, as India is not a signatory to the U.N. Refugee Convention of 1951 or its 1967 Protocol.

On Thursday, Mizoram’s top elected official Zoramthanga wrote to Modi and said “India cannot turn a blind eye” to the humanitarian crisis unfolding in his state.

Zoramthanga, who uses one name, wrote in the letter that the people of his state, who share ethnic ties with the refugees from Chin communities in Myanmar, “can’t remain indifferent to their plight.” He urged the federal government to review its order and allow refugees into India.

Earlier this month, Myanmar asked India to return the police officers who crossed the border. India shares a 1,643-kilometer (1,020-mile) border with Myanmar, and is home to thousands of refugees from Myanmar in different states.

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