GENEVA - The U.N. refugee agency says it is deeply concerned about the forced deportation by the Indian government of seven Rohingya refugees to Myanmar, where human rights advocates say their safety is at risk.
The refugees have been in detention in India since 2012, according to the UNHCR, which was not aware they were in the country until it was informed of their possible return to Myanmar on Thursday.
UNHCR spokesman Andrej Mahecic says his agency asked Indian authorities for access to the refugees so it could determine their need for international protection.
"UNHCR regrets that the agency did not receive a response to this request and was unable to secure access for a lawyer from a state legal service. ... The U.N. refugee agency is concerned that they did not have access to legal counsel, were not given the chance to access asylum processing and have their claims assessed in India," he said.
Some 18,000 Rohingya refugees and asylum-seekers living in India are registered with UNHCR. The agency has issued ID cards and documents to help prevent their arbitrary arrest, detention and deportation.
Mahecic says he fears the UNHCR may be unaware of the presence of other Rohingya refugees who could be in need of protection.
"The context, as I said, of this return is worrying given what has been happening and the scope of the refugee crisis that we have seen unfolding in Myanmar, especially with more than 720,000 people fleeing ... toward Bangladesh and other countries in the area," he said.
An eruption of violence and persecution by Myanmar military and security police against the Rohingya in Rakhine state at the end of August 2017 caused a mass exodus of refugees to Bangladesh.
The UNHCR warns that conditions in Myanmar have not improved.