The two men have now been in prison for more than two months after being granted fake passports.
Two Chin men who returned to Burma from Malaysia following a UN decision to no longer grant refugee status to the community have now been in prison for more than two months—and legal experts say more such cases are likely to follow.
Salai Van Ceu Thawng, 28, from Chin State’s Haka, and Mai Om Hlu from Mindat, were arrested upon arrival at Yangon International Airport on June 10 for lacking proper documentation. They are still in detention in Insein Prison, Salai Van Ceu Thawng’s father told Khonumthung News.
They are being charged with violating Article 13/1 of Burma’s Immigration Act—which bans illegal entry to the country—and Article 420 of the Criminal Code, which does not allow for “dishonestly deliver[ing]property.”
The men originally entered Malaysia by land, without passports, and, once there, obtained cards from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) identifying them as refugees. However, in June, the UNHCR declared that throughout Asia, refugee protection for those from Chin State would be phased outin 2019, as the area no longer met the criteria for being a conflict zone.
The two arrested mens’ UNHCR cards had expired. Knowing that they would not be issued new ones, and that resettlement to a third country was no longer an option, Salai Van Ceu Thawng’s father explained that they sought help from a broker in getting Burmese passports.
“They were afraid of being arrested [in Malaysia]. They wanted to go back home,” he said of why his son and his friend decided to return to Burma. “Unfortunately, the passports were fake—a broker cheated them. That’s why they were arrested at the Yangon airport.”
The father added that he had sent copies of his son’s Burmese ID and family registration to the broker, but that the broker did not follow protocol in obtaining the passport.
The defendants’ lawyer, U Ngai Sak, said he has not been able to secure the two men’s release, and is “worried” about more such arrests as Chin once considered refugees try to return to Burma.
“If the UNHCR doesn’t review its policy concerning Chin refugees in Malaysia and India, most Chin refugees will have action taken against them when they return to Myanmar,” the lawyer wrote on social media.
UNHCR cards for the Chin will expire on Dec. 31, 2019. From this point onward, in order to receive UN protection, an individual must be re-interviewed and a decision will reportedly be made on their refugee status within two months. UNHCR officials will then decide whether the individual will need to return to Burma, can continue staying in the host country, or will resettle abroad.
SEO KEYWORDS: Chin, refugees
FACEBOOK: “If the UNHCR doesn’t review its policy concerning Chin refugees in Malaysia and India, most Chin refugees will have action taken against them when they return to Myanmar,” the defendants’ lawyer wrote on social media.
TWITTER: Chin #refugees prosecuted upon return to #Myanmar were ‘cheated’ by broker