By Special Correspondent
New Delhi : A plea has been filed in the Supreme Court seeking the immediate release of around 170 Rohingya refugees detained in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). It has also sought a direction to restrain the Indian government from deporting these refugees to Myanmar who have been detained a sub-jail in Jammu.
It also prays for an order to be issued to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to expeditiously grant refugee identification cards through the Foreign Regional Registration Office (FRRO) for the Rohingyas in the informal camps.
The applicant, through advocate Prashant Bhushan, submitted that even while the top court was seized of the matter, news reports have been doing rounds since March 7, 2021 of the nearly 150-170 Rohingya refugees in Jammu being detained.
A direction to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to intervene and determine the protection needs of the Rohingya refugees not just in Jammu but also in camps across the country and to complete the process of granting them refugee cards has also been
“This follows the Union Minister Jitendra Singh’s statements two months ago that the Rohingya (identified as Muslim refugees by the government) wouldn’t be able to secure citizenship. These refugees have been illegally detained and jailed in the Jammu Sub Jail which has been converted into a holding centre with the IGP (Jammu) Mukesh Singh stating that they face deportation back to Myanmar following verification by their embassy,” the application stated.
The plea contended that the proposed deportation was contrary to the constitutional protections of Article 14, Article 21 and Article 51(c) of the Constitution of India, which provides equal rights and liberty to every ‘person’.
It added any such deportation would violate the principle of ‘Non-Refoulement’ of refugees, which has been widely recognised in several international conventions to which India is a signatory, and is also recognized as a jus cogens (fundamental and non-derogable) principle of Customary International Law.
The plea alleged that despite these constitutional and international law requirements, the centre had failed to carry out their obligations to ensure the protection to the Rohingya community, by proposing to deport them to Myanmar where they face serious violence and persecution.
It called the proposal discriminatory on grounds of religion because it treats the Rohingya differently to all of the other refugees that India has been an ashraya (haven) for including Tibetans, Sri Lankan Tamils and minorities from Bangladesh and Pakistan – despite the Rohingya fleeing equally “grave hells made real”. Minorities from Bangladesh and Pakistan had been officially exempted from documentation requirements, whilst the absence of the same was used against the stateless Rohingya; national security was being used as a bogeyman to assert that the Rohingya were terrorists, though union and state government statements clearly indicate that this is not true.
The plea has been drawn by advocate Cherly D’souza.
The Guardian newspaper recently reported that about 170 Rohingya refugees living in India have been rounded up into detention centres and told they will be forcibly deported back to Myanmar where they had previously fled genocidal human rights abuses.
Notes human rights defender and lawyer Prashant Bhushan said the crackdown was in violation of international law because the Rohingya had fled genocidal violence.
“These are refugees here. The government can neither detain them nor evict them. They have to be allowed to live as refugees,” said Bushan, who plans to file an application in the supreme court of India seeking the release of the detained refugees.
The arrests sent ripples of fear through the Rohingya communities scattered across India. Since January, almost all of the 400 Rohingya refugees living in West Bengal have disappeared from their villages, many crossing over the border.
Among them was Mohammad Nijam, a Rohingya refugee who was living in a West Bengal village, who crossed over to Bangladesh with his wife and three children in February.
“India has become unsafe for all Rohingya,” he said. “I think all Rohingya living in India will have to flee the country for Bangladesh or other countries very soon.”
According to one Delhi based Rohingya NGO, many refugees have not had their refugee cards renewed for between 2 and 4 months.
Will UNHCR India inform the world as to when and why they stopped doing Refugee Status Determination for Rohingya refugees? The NGO asked.
The 81 Rohingya rescued in Andaman on 27 February by the Indian Coast Guard have not been allowed to disembark and stand on firm land. Bangladesh and India quibble as to who should take them. Among them are 23 children.
Meanwhile, the CPI(M) expressed its deep concern at the Central Government’s instruction to the North-Eastern state governments to check the influx of people coming in from Myanmar. The Home Ministry in a letter has asked the states to identify “illegal migrants”, hold them and start deportation proceedings.
In a statement, the communist party said: “This is an inhuman and anti-democratic stand towards people fleeing the violence perpetrated by the military rulers who have seized power ousting the elected government headed by Aung San Suu Kyi.
The Indian people have great sympathy and support for the neighbouring people of Myanmar who are valiantly protesting against the military takeover.
The Indian government should reflect this sympathy and not treat the people who have crossed over fearing for their lives as “illegal migrants”. They should be given refugee status and provided humanitarian assistance”.