NEW DELHI – Indian Home Affairs Minister Rajnath Singh reiterated Thursday that tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar residing in India are “not refugees but illegal immigrants.”
“The people who have entered into India from Myanmar are not Rohingya refugees. We have to understand this reality,” Singh said in a speech at a seminar organized by the National Human Rights Commission in New Delhi.
His remarks come 10 days after the top U.N. human rights official criticized India’s measures to deport Rohingya — a persecuted, stateless minority in Myanmar — at a time when violence and possibly “ethnic cleansing” are being perpetrated against them in that country.
Singh argued that since India is not a signatory to international agreements on refugees, including the 1951 U.N. Refugee Convention, the question of violating those agreements by sending Rohingya back to Myanmar does not arise.
In any case, he said, “There is a process through which you get refugee status and none from among these people have followed that procedure. Some people have entered India in an illegal fashion and now there is talk of their human rights.”
On Sept. 11, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said before the Human Rights Council in Geneva, “I deplore current measures in India to deport Rohingyas at a time of such violence against them in their country.”
He disputed the home minister’s previously stated view that because India is not a signatory to the Refugee Convention, India can dispense with international law on the matter, “together with basic human compassion,” as the U.N. official put it.
“By virtue of customary law, its ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the obligations of due process and the universal principle of non-refoulement, India cannot carry out collective expulsions, or return people to a place where they risk torture or other serious violations,” he said.
Zeid said some 40,000 Rohingya have settled in India, among which 16,000 have received refugee documentation from the United Nations.
However, an Indian External Affairs Ministry spokesman last month said there were indications that around 40,000 were staying illegally, largely in Jammu, Hyderabad, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi and Rajasthan, and that the government was intent on deporting them.
Singh said that in response to a petition filed before the Supreme Court by Rohingya seeking asylum in India, the government filed an affidavit with the court in which it noted that many Rohingya had links with the Islamic State extremists and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency.
The next hearing on the issue before the apex court is scheduled for Oct. 3.
The latest round of violence in Myanmar’s strife-torn Rakhine State broke out on Aug. 25 when Rohingya militants attacked dozens of security outposts. The military retaliated by launching clearance operations that have led over 400,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh.
The Indian government immediately labeled the assailants “terrorists,” condemned their actions, called for them to be brought to justice, and extended “strong support” to Suu Kyi’s government.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi reiterated that support earlier this month when he visited Myanmar and met with its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.
“We are partners in your concerns over the loss of lives of security forces and innocent people due to the extremist violence in Rakhine State,” Modi told reporters alongside her after their talks on Sept. 6, without mentioning the humanitarian crisis just across the border in Bangladesh.
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