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Pressure mounts on Manipur govt after Myanmar asylum seeker dies at detention centre

Lamkhochon Guite from a village of Myanmar’s Tamu Township died in wee hours of Sunday, confirm police. Activists say situation in Manipur for refugees is different from Mizoram.

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Guwahati: The death of a Myanmar national at the Foreigner Detention Centre (FDC) near Sajiwa jail in Manipur’s Imphal East district has drawn desperate appeals from rights groups to secure refugee rights for people fleeing junta atrocities since the February 2021 coup.

Lamkhochon Guite, 32, from Sayarsan village of Myanmar’s Tamu Township died in the wee hours of Sunday, police confirmed. He was lodged at the detention centre along with 70 Myanmarese nationals arrested 27 January from Moreh sub-division in the border district of Tengnoupal.

The post-mortem was conducted Sunday afternoon at the Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Medical Sciences, Imphal after which the remains were handed over to the family members of the deceased currently living at Moreh town. Sources close to the family said Guite leaves behind his wife and a four-year-old son.

“It’s very unfortunate. It seems he had a cardiac arrest while in sleep, but we will wait for autopsy results. There is nothing to suggest foul play. They (Myanmar refugees) were sleeping in the same room, and he was a healthy person. He never complained of any sickness,” Sholal Touthang, Superintendent of Prison (SP) of Manipur Central Jail, Sajiwa told ThePrint.

However, blaming the Manipur government for “poor conditions at the detention centre”, the government-appointed lawyer for the Myanmar refugees, David (goes by one name only), said “lack of facilities” might have led to this situation.

“When I received the news past midnight, I went to the detention centre and spoke with the inmates. They said they heard noises, and people gathered around him (deceased). Some tried to revive him. They took him to the Medical Inspection room, and he was declared dead,” David told ThePrint.

“They are made to sleep on the floor, which is very cold. There are elderly inmates above 60 years of age, couple of them with multiple surgeries or cardiac issues. If they have to sleep on the floor for days and weeks, such complications are bound to happen. It is the state government’s fault,” David alleged.

The refugees in Manipur are mostly from Sagaing Region, Chin State and Magway region of Myanmar. They largely belong to the same ethnic group or Kuki-Chin-Zomi-Mizo tribe, bound by ethnic and kin ties.

The India for Myanmar group, an independent grassroots advocacy movement, cited ground report estimate of about “10,000 Myanmar refugees in Manipur, 50 per cent of which include women and children.”

Also Read: Drones add new dimension to Myanmar junta vs Chin insurgents clashes near Indian border

Situation better in Mizoram

Some activists have been in touch with the inmates at the detention centre, while others have heard from relatives about their conditions inside the facility.

Salai Dokhar, the founder of India for Myanmar, said that the current refugee situation in Manipur is “dark and dismal”.

“We are temporarily seeking shelter in India because we are not safe in Myanmar. People who ask for safety are called refugees by the international community. In our hardest time, we acknowledge the solidarity and help of Indian citizens, but we need more. If Manipur government recognises us as temporary asylum seekers like Mizoram has, it will be very helpful for both sides,” he told ThePrint.

A Myanmar activist from the Kuki Womens Rights Organisation said she had written to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), but found no help.

Drawing comparison with Mizoram, she said the situation in Manipur is “frightening”.

“Here in Manipur, we have sought refuge in the border area of Moreh, but we are afraid of getting arrested — the authorities have been threatening us and also arrested some of our people, leaving out women and minors. It’s worrying since last few days. The conditions are not like Mizoram where it’s convenient to find shelter and security. Its also dangerous to go back to Myanmar under constant threat and sleepless nights,” the activist told ThePrint on condition of anonymity.

“By the grace of God, we are getting food provided by civil society organisations and church bodies at Moreh. They provide rice and beans, salt and essentials,” she said.

Dokhar said the refugees are staying in rented places in mutual understanding with Indian citizens. “Some support is being provided by local NGOs and Indian CSOs, but very limited. There is no official shelter. So, everything depends on what Manipur government decides,” he said.

(Edited by Tony Rai)

Also Read: As Chin families flow into Mizoram, a tale of hope & fear in refugee camps near Myanmar border


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