Rohingya issue: UN body reminds India of refugee laws

Rohingya issue: UN body reminds India of refugee laws

New Delhi is not a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention

A man from the Rohingya community fills out an identification form, provided by local police, inside his shop at a camp in New Delhi, on Thursday. Reuters

Even as India deported seven Rohingya Muslims to Myanmar, a United Nations agency on Thursday reminded New Delhi that the international laws required nations to refrain from sending refugees back to countries where they could still face danger.

“The core principle of refugee protection is the principle of non-refoulement, which is part of customary international law and requires the states to refrain from measures that could directly or indirectly lead to the return of a person to a country where his or her life or freedom would be in danger,” the United Nations High Commission for Refugees said in response to a query from the DH.

A spokesperson of the international organisation's office in New Delhi reiterated the views expressed by Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, that the situation in Rakhine State in Myanmar was still “not conducive for safe, dignified and sustainable return” of the Rohingyas.

“Considering this, these individuals should be allowed to make an informed decision about their return to Myanmar in the current conditions and/or access their right to seek safe asylum,” the UNHCR India stated.

The seven Rohingya Muslims, who were held in a jail at Silchar in southern Assam since 2012, were handed over to the Myanmar government at India-Myanmar border at Moreh in Manipur soon after the Supreme Court turned down a plea to stop the government from deporting them.

India is not a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention. The UNHCR, however, holds that the “principle of non-refoulement” (or not sending back refugees to a place where they face danger) was considered “part of customary international law and therefore binding on all states whether they have signed the Refugee Convention or not”.

The UNHCR's office in New Delhi said that about 18,000 Rohingya refugees and asylum-seekers living in India were at present registered with the agency.

The seven, whom India deported to Myanmar on Thursday, were not registered with the agency though. They hailed from Kyauk Daw in the Rakhine State of Myanmar. They were detained in southern Assam in 2012 for violation of the Foreigners Act after illegally entering into India from Myanmar.

“Given the ethnic identity of the men, this is a flagrant denial of their right to protection and could amount to refoulement,” the UN Special Rapporteur on racism, Tendayi Achiume, said in a statement issued in Geneva on Wednesday.

“The Indian government has an international legal obligation to fully acknowledge the institutionalised discrimination, persecution, hate and gross human rights violations these people have faced in their country of origin and provide them the necessary protection,” she said.

The minority Rohingyas have since long been victims of persecution in the Rakhine State, where Buddhists constitute the majority. They have been denied citizenship and most of them have been stateless, despite living for generations in Myanmar. Thousands of Rohingyas fled Myanmar over the past several years to escape persecution and most of them took refuge in neighbouring Bangladesh.

A smaller number of Rohingya refugees ended up in India too.

The plight of Rohingyas drew international attention in August 2017 when Myanmar's armed forces launched the latest military crackdown against them in Rakhine State of the country. With hundreds of them killed and villages burnt down, over 723,000 more Rohingyas, including children and women, had to sail to and take refuge in Bangladesh. Not only the US Government, but the UNHCR too termed the latest wave of violence against the Rohingyas in Myanmar as “ethnic cleansing”.

The Government of Myanmar and its de-facto head Aung San Suu Kyi, who, herself, was awarded Nobel Peace Prize for fighting against the military junta in her country, drew flak from around the world for failing to protect the Rohingyas. Talks between Myanmar and Bangladesh for repatriation of the Rohingyas did not make much progress.

India refrained from criticising Suu Kyi or the Myanmar government but helped the Bangladesh government to provide food and other essentials to the refugees.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government, however, took a tough stand on Rohingyas in India and initiated a process to identify and deport them, along with other illegal migrants.


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