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UN Urges Myanmar's Neighbours to Stop Forced Returns

FILE - Displaced people from Myanmar carry donated lunch boxes to their tents along the Thai side of the Moei River in Mae Sot, Thailand on Feb. 5, 2022.

The United Nations on Thursday urged Myanmar's neighbours to stop the forced return of its nationals, saying "countless lives" were being placed at risk.

The UN's refugee agency UNHCR said it was gravely concerned about multiple reports of refoulement -- the forcible return of refugees and asylum seekers -- since February 2021 from countries neighbouring Myanmar.

The agency is "urgently appealing to countries in the region to immediately stop forced returns of Myanmar nationals seeking safety from serious harm".

"We repeat our call on states to continue offering protection to Myanmar nationals fleeing for safety. This also includes ending the practice of indefinite detention of asylum seekers and refugees from Myanmar," said Gillian Triggs, UNHCR's assistant high commissioner for protection.

The southeast Asian nation has been in turmoil since a military coup last year, with swathes of the country engulfed by fighting.

More than 2,300 people have been killed in the military's crackdown on dissent since the coup, which rights groups say includes razing villages, mass extrajudicial killings and air strikes on civilians.

The junta blames anti-coup fighters for the deaths of almost 3,900 civilians.

Triggs said the violence was driving people to flee and that they should be allowed to seek asylum abroad and be protected against refoulement.