India deports Rohingya Muslims to Myanmar, sparking outcry


India has deported seven Rohingya Muslims after the country’s top court rejected a last-minute plea that they be allowed to remain in the country as they feared for their lives in Myanmar.

It’s the first group of Rohingya refugees to be deported after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government last year ordered the expulsion of some 40,000 Rohingya refugees living in settlements across the country.

India regards Rohingya refugees, including 16,000 of those registered with the UN’s refugee agency, as “illegal immigrants,” and says they do not have a right to stay in the country. It also says the Rohingya posed a “serious threat” with intelligence data showing links between some of the refugees and Pakistan-based terror groups and the “Islamic State” (IS).

“It’s disappointing that the Supreme Court [of India] has allowed the government to deport the seven Rohingya refugees,” defense attorney Prashant Bhushan, who put in the plea to stall the deportation, told DW on Thursday.

“The UNHCR [the UN refugee agency] and the Human Rights Watch have said that conditions in Myanmar are not safe for their return. Rohingya who have gone back have been tortured,” he said. “All human rights organizations should be alarmed after this deportation.”

International rights groups have said the deportation order violates international law.

Read more: Rohingyas feel safe in India, but uncertainty looms

Voluntary return?

The seven men had been in detention since 2012 after being arrested for illegal entry. They were handed over to Myanmar authorities in the border town of Moreh, in the northeastern state of Manipur.

“We will drive them from this border point and drop them 100 kilometers (62 miles) from here, and after that it is their responsibility to go to the Rakhine state of Myanmar,” Aung Myo, deputy director of immigration in Myanmar’s Tamu border district, told reporters during a televised news conference.

Bhushan told DW the top court had agreed to the government’s assertion that the men had themselves sought to return to Myanmar.

“The judge rejected my request that the UNHCR should be asked to ascertain whether the men really want to return or not,” he said.

‘Dark day for human rights’

Rohingya, a vast majority of whom are Muslim, have been migrating to India and other neighboring countries over the years to escape persecution in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, where they have been denied citizenship rights.

Read more: Rohingya people in Myanmar: What you need to know

About 700,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh in the past one year alone to escape military and civilian reprisals, which has been described by the United Nations as “ethnic cleansing.”

“Today’s decision by the Supreme Court marks a dark day for human rights in India. This decision negates India’s proud tradition of providing refuge to those fleeing serious human rights violations,” said Amnesty India, which accused the Indian government of conducting “a relentless smear campaign” against the Rohingya refugees in India for over two years.

The Supreme Court of India is hearing several petitions to block government plans to deport the 40,000 Rohingya refugees to Myanmar.

Some of India’s prominent legal minds are representing the Rohingya in the case.

“Today they have expelled seven, tomorrow they can expel all of us,” said Syed Alam, a refugee at a camp in the northern state of Jammu & Kashmir, told the Reuters news agency. “India doesn’t know what happens with Rohingya inside Myanmar. Can it not see what Myanmar has done to our people in the last year?”

Each evening at 1830 UTC, DW’s editors send out a selection of the day’s hard news and quality feature journalism. You can sign up to receive it directly here.