India deports Myanmar refugees who fled 2021 coup

People who fled from Myanmar seek shelter at Farkawn village

By Tora Agarwala

GUWAHATI, India (Reuters) - India on Thursday deported the first group of Myanmar refugees who had sought shelter after a 2021 military coup, a top state minister said, following weeks of efforts that were hampered by fighting between Myanmar's rebel forces and the ruling junta.

Thousands of civilians and hundreds of troops from Myanmar have crossed the border to India after the coup. This has worried New Delhi, which has announced plans to fence its border with Myanmar and end a visa-free movement policy.

At least 38 refugees were deported on Thursday by the border state of Manipur, which plans send back a total of 77 people as it copes with sporadic violence that has killed at least 220 people since ethnic clashes broke out in May last year.

"Without any discrimination, we have completed the first phase of deportation of illegal immigrants from Myanmar," Manipur Chief Minister N. Biren Singh said in a social media post. "The state government is continuing the identification of illegal immigrants."

One Indian national was also repatriated by Myanmar, Singh added.

New Delhi has not signed the 1951 U.N. Refugee Convention, which spells out refugee rights and states' responsibilities to protect them, and it does not have its own laws protecting refugees.

Singh, who is from Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party, said in March deportations had begun, but Indian security officials said the efforts were held up by fighting in Myanmar.

Modi is seeking a rare third straight term in ongoing national elections and his government has blamed the refugee influx as one reason for violence that has roiled Manipur.

(Writing by Shivam Patel; Editing by Bernadette Baum)