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Rights groups slam ‘outrageous’ Indian plan to deport Rohingya

A woman from the Rohingya community walks through a camp in Delhi, India, on 17 August 2017. (Photo: Reuters)

Rights groups have condemned India’s plan to deport some 40,000 Rohingya Muslims, saying India should abide by its legal obligations and protect the stateless refugees who face persecution in Burma.

Junior interior minister Kiren Rijiju told parliament last week the central government had directed state authorities to identify and deport all illegal immigrants including Rohingya, even those registered with the UN refugee agency.

“Indian authorities are well aware of the human rights violations Rohingya Muslims have had to face in Burma and it would be outrageous to abandon them to their fates,” said Raghu Menon, advocacy manager at Amnesty International India.

“It shows blatant disregard for India’s obligations under international law,” he said in a statement on Wednesday.

The Rohingya are denied citizenship in Buddhist-majority Burma and classified as illegal immigrants, despite claiming centuries-old roots.

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have fled Burma, where they face alleged atrocities including murder, rape and arson attacks, with many taking refuge in Bangladesh, and some then crossing a porous border into Hindu-majority India.

Many have also headed elsewhere in Southeast Asia, often on rickety boats run by people-smuggling gangs.

The Rohingya are generally vilified in India, and there has been a series of anti-Rohingya protests in the past few months.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has issued identity cards to about 16,500 Rohingya in India.

Rijiju, a high-profile minister in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government, said the UNHCR registration was irrelevant.

India is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, which spells out states’ responsibilities toward refugees. Nor does it have domestic legislation to protect the almost 210,000 refugees it hosts.

But Asia’s third-largest economy is bound by customary international law not to forcibly return refugees to a place where they face danger, rights groups say.

“The government should put an end to any plans to deport the Rohingya, and instead register them so that they can get an education and health care and find work,” Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said on Thursday.