India deported seven Rohingya Muslim refugees to Myanmar Thursday, despite protests from human rights activists and United Nations warnings that they could face persecution in the country where the security forces have been accused of genocidal attacks against the minority community.
Prashant Bhushan, a Delhi-based human rights lawyer, filed a last-minute appeal with India’s Supreme Court seeking to halt their deportation, saying they would face reprisals on their return to Myanmar.
The court ruled Thursday that it would allow their deportation because it does not “want to interfere with the (government’s) decision.”
The men, ages 26 to 32, had been held in detention centers in the northeast Indian state of Assam since they were arrested as illegal immigrants in 2012. They were taken to the neighboring state of Manipur Wednesday and sent across the border to Myanmar on Thursday.
“The deportation procedure for the Rohingya men was complete after they were handed over to the security officials of Myanmar at the border post of Moreh (in Manipur) this afternoon,” Ibomcha Singh, police chief of the Tengnoupal district where Moreh is located, told VOA.
Targeted for decades
Since the Rohingya Muslims were first targeted by large-scale ethnic violence in 1970s, the religious minority community has fled persecution and economic hardship in Myanmar for decades by fleeing to neighboring Bangladesh and other countries. While most Rohingya refugees remained in Bangladesh, some crossed the border into India.
In 2012, when Bangladesh kept its border closed to fleeing Rohingyas, some of them began entering India directly through the northeast Indian border state of Mizoram.
On Tuesday, Tendayi Achiume, U.N. special rapporteur on racism, expressed concern over the deportations.
“Given the ethnic identity of the men, this is a flagrant denial of their right to protection and could amount to refoulement (return of refugees). The Indian government has an international legal obligation to fully acknowledge the institutionalized discrimination, persecution, hate and gross human rights violations these people have faced in their country of origin and provide them the necessary protection,” Achiume said in a statement.
“We urge the government of India to abide by the international norm of nonrefoulement and protect the rights of asylum seekers and refugees, including Rohingyas.”
'India's national interest'
In an affidavit Thursday, the Indian government said the deportations followed an administrative decision “involving diplomatic and other considerations, including an overwhelming consideration of (India’s) national interest.”
The Supreme Court said it supported deportation largely because it was told by the government that unlike other Rohingyas, the men would be accepted as citizens of Myanmar. Myanmar had issued them government identity cards, a government lawyer told the court.
But Ko Ko Linn, a Bangladesh-based Rohingya political activist, said he was worried about the men’s fate.
“There is a very high possibility that these men would be violently tortured and sent to jail for long years in Burma now, as it happens to the Rohingyas there. There is also a possibility that they would be accused of being involved in terrorism-related activities in the past,” Linn told VOA.