Indian court rejects plea to stop Rohingya deportation to coup-hit Myanmar

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India’s top court has rejected an appeal to stop the deportation of some 150 Rohingya Muslims to Myanmar, where hundreds of civilians have been killed in clashes which flared after the military seized power on 1 February. Over a million Rohingya refugees have fled violence in Myanmar in successive waves of displacement since the early 1990s.

The rejection of the appeal made by two Rohingyas by Supreme Court Chief Justice Sharad Arvind Bobde paved the way for possible deportation, legal experts said.

"It is not possible to grant the interim relief prayed for," the chief justice said in a ruling but added officials must follow due process.

The two were part of a 168 Rohingyas including women and children who were rounded up in India’s northern Jammu region and sent to a state-run detention center last month.

The pair in their appeal had urged the court to free those detained, block their deportation and recognize Rohingyas as refugees in India.

“This goes against India’s commitment to refugee protection and its obligations against returning refugees to a place where they face persecution and is a violation of the Article 21 (of the Indian constitution) rights of all Rohingya persons living in India,” argued lawyer Prashant Bhushan.

More than 600 dead in Myanmar crackdown

At least 600 civilians have so far died in lethal clashes with security forces in Myanmar since 1 February when the army wrested power from an elected government, according to Assistance Association for Political Prisoners activist forum.

"Regarding the contention raised on behalf of the petitioners about the present state of affairs in Myanmar, we have to state that we cannot comment upon something happening in another country," judge Bobde added in Delhi.

Last month, he had remarked the Rohingyas - a stateless Muslim minority - faced peril in their homeland.

“The fear is that once they are deported, they may get slaughtered. But we cannot stop it…” the chief justice was quoted as saying during a 26 March court hearing.

The Indian government sees the Rohingyas as illegal immigrants.

“It is a historical decision by the supreme court,” said Kavinder Gupta, former deputy minister of Jammu and Kashmir and member of India’s ruling Hindu nationalist party, which regards Rohingyas as a security threat.

“Now, how to deport them under the ambit of the law remains to be discussed and soon a decision should be taken on it,” politician Gupta added.

Deportation stopped at border

Earlier this month, Indian authorities halted the deportation of a 14-year-old Rohingya Muslim girl to Myanmar at the last minute after having transported her to the northeastern Manipur state to process her paperwork.

Indian media reported the deportation was thwarted when border guards from coup-hit Myanmar did not take her back.

UNHCR, the U.N. refugee agency had opposed the attempt to send her back to Myanmar.

The girl and her family were among the unknown number of Rohingyas who fled a Myanmar crackdown in 2017.

Two years later, she left her parents behind in a refugee camp in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar but was found in India where the girl was then sent to a shelter home.

Reports said she had set out on an uncertain journey for a better life in Malaysia.

The girl’s attempted deportation also drew criticism from rights activists.

“This is a clear case of human rights violation… we are also going to give her proper shelter so that she doesn’t become a victim of such attempts in future,” Indian newspapers quoted activist Kamal Chakraborty as saying.

India is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention.