Rights groups should stop lecturing and demonizing India over its plan to deport 40,000 stateless Rohingya and recognize that the country has treated millions of refugees from across the world humanely, a senior official said this week.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's right-wing government says the Rohingya Muslims who have fled to India because of persecution in Buddhist-majority Myanmar are illegal immigrants and should deported because they pose a potential security threat.
"India is the most humane nation in the world," said junior interior minister Kiren Rijiju, defending an order to states to identify and deport the Rohingya — including 16,500 registered with the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR).
"There is no other country in the world which hosts so many refugees, so don't demonize us, don't give us lecture," Rijiju said.
The Rohingya are denied citizenship in Myanmar and classified as illegal immigrants, despite claiming centuries-old roots. Hundreds of thousands have fled Myanmar, where they are marginalized and sometimes subjected to communal violence, with many taking refuge in Bangladesh — and some then crossing a porous border into Hindu-majority India.
On Monday, Myanmar security forces intensified operations against Rohingya insurgents, following three days of clashes with militants in the worst violence involving the Muslim minority in five years.
Indian minister Rijiju said registration with the UNHCR was irrelevant.
India is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, which spells out states' responsibilities toward refugees. Nor does it have a domestic law to protect refugees.
The Rohingya will be sent back from India in a humane way, following due legal processes, Rijiju added.
"We are not going to shoot them, nor are we planning to throw them in the ocean," he said Monday.
Rights groups, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have slammed India's deportation plan as "outrageous."
Asia's third-largest economy is bound by customary international law — the principle of non-refoulement — where it cannot forcibly return refugees to a place where they face danger, they say.