New Delhi. October 3, 2018
Officials from UN High Commissioner for Refugees based in India have said that seven Rohingya men being deported from the Silchar central jail in Assam to their home village in Central Rakhine in Myanmar should be given a chance to make an “informed decision” about their return in the current conditions, or seek safe asylum, even as a fresh petition challenging their deportation was filed in the Supreme Court.
In a response shared with this correspondent, the UNHCR has urged India to reconsider the deportation of the seven Rohingya men and expressed concern that current conditions in Rakhine are ‘not conducive for the safe, dignified and sustainable returns.’
Indian police authorities escorted the men to the border between Myanmar and India at Moreh to hand them over to Myanmar authorities. The action comes a day after United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres called upon India to pressure Myanmar into creating an environment conducive for Rohingya refugees to return safely.
Earlier on Wednesday, a special rapporteur on racism at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) raised alarm over the move that could be seen as potential refoulement – or the deliberate return of refugees to a place where they face persecution and violence. The principle of non-refoulement is customary international law and ‘requires States to avoid measures that could directly or indirectly lead to the return of a person to a country where his or her life or freedom would be in danger,’ said the statement.
The seven men in question were arrested and imprisoned in the Silchar central jail in Assam in 2012 on charges of illegal migration when they tried to enter Indian territory. “The Indian Government has an international legal obligation to fully acknowledge the institutionalised discrimination, persecution, hate and gross human rights violations these people have faced in their country of origin and provide them the necessary protection,” said UN Special Rapporteur on racism, Tendai Achiume.
Officially India hosts 18000 Rohingya refugees recognized by the UNHCR. The special rapporteur has argued that India has an obligation to refer these seven men, and others who may be in detention to the agency, before deporting them.
At a town-hall with students, journalists and civil society on Gandhi Jayanti, Mr Guterres said he had never seen a humanitarian crisis as grave as the one facing the Rohingya in recent history, and made an impassioned plea for India to support Bangladesh in its humanitarian efforts for Rohingya people. “I have never seen a community so discriminated in the world as the Rohingyas. They couldn’t even move within Rakhine state, they couldn’t marry without permission, and their children could not go to good schools or colleges. And then there was the violence against them: homes burnt, women raped, villages destroyed, “ said Mr Guterres.
In spite of not being a signatory to the 1951 UN Convention on refugees, India has time and again opened its borders and welcomed waves of refugees fleeing political and religious persecution or violent armed conflict from Tibet, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka for decades. However, the Rohingya have not been met with a similar kindness and generosity of spirit. Pandering to domestic politics and an increasingly polarized public, several members of the ruling BJP have used the specter of Islamist terrorism to deny asylum to the nearly 700,000 mainly Muslim, Bengali speaking Rohingya who fled the Myanmar Army’s brutality in the Rakhine state in 2017. An already overwhelmed Bangladesh now houses them all in Cox’s Bazaar’s refugee camps. In response to concerns over radicalization among the Rohingya, Mr Guterres emphasized ‘fortunately there aren’t many Rohingyas, who have been recruited, and we have been able to avoid the situation so far, but discrimination and unresolved problems facilitate terrorist groups.”
Nearly 1 million Rohingya have fled genocidal violence and persecution in Myanmar since 2012. Over 900,000 of them live as refugees in Bangladesh.
(a version of this story appeared on TheWire.in)