SC tells Centre to clarify stand on Myanmar's Rohingya refugees

The Supreme Court on Monday sought to know the stand of the government on a petition challenging its decision to deport some 40,000 illegal Rohingya Muslim immigrants back to Myanmar.

The matter came up before a bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud, which asked Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta to take instruction from the Centre on its response to the petition which has challenged the decision on various grounds including that it violated international human right conventions.

What is your stand? Are they (Rohingyas) as a class entitled to stay in India as refugees? Tell us by September 11," the bench told Mehta, who represented the Narendra Modi government.

Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the two Rohingya immigrants, wanted an assurance that during the pendency of the petition, the Centre will not take any step including deportation of the immigrants. The ASG made it clear that he was not making any statement. The bench asked the petitioner to hand over the copy of the petition and relevant documents pertaining to the matter to the law officer.

Violent attacks allegedly by the Myanmar military have led to an exodus of Rohingya tribals from the western Rakhine state in that country to India and Bangladesh. Many of them, who had fled to India after the earlier spate of violence, are said to have settled in Jammu, Hyderabad, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, the Delhi National Capital Region and Rajasthan.

The plea filed by Mohammad Salimullah and Mohammad Shaqir, who are registered refugees under the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), claimed the Rohingyas had taken refuge in India after escaping from Myanmar due to widespread discrimination, violence and bloodshed against the community.

''Proposed deportation is contrary to the constitutional protections of Article 14 (Right to Equality), Article 21 (Right to Life and Personal Liberty) and Article 51(c) of the Constitution of India, which provides equal rights and liberty to every person. This act would also be in contradiction with the principle of 'Non-Refoulement', which has been widely recognised as a principle of Customary International Law,'' the plea said, while seeking a direction to the government not to deport them and other members of Rohingya community.

It has also sought a direction that Rohingyas be provided ''basic amenities to ensure that they can live in human conditions as required by international law''.

It also said that India has ratified and is a signatory to various conventions that recognise the Principle of ''Non-Refoulement', which prohibits deportation of refugees to a country where they may face threat to their lives. This principle is part of the Customary International Law and is considered binding on all states whether they have signed the Refugee Convention or not.

The petition further said that India has traditionally been hospitable to refugees and displaced people, both from South Asia and across the world.

On 18 August, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) had issued a notice to the Centre over its plan to deport the Rohingya immigrants.