NEW DELHI – India on Thursday deported seven Rohingya men to Myanmar despite U.N. warnings that they faced persecution in a country where the army is accused of genocide against the Muslim minority.
The men, who had been in detention for immigration offenses since 2012, were handed over to Myanmar authorities at a border crossing in India’s northeast state of Manipur.
“Seven Myanmarese nationals have been deported today. They were handed over to the authorities of Myanmar at Moreh border post,” said senior Assam police officer Bhaskar Jyoti Mahanta.
Photos showed the seven men seated in a bus bound for the border in the remote hilly state bordering Myanmar’s far northwest.
The U.N. had voiced concern that returning the men ignored the danger they faced in Myanmar, where for decades the Rohingya have been targeted in violent pogroms by security forces.
A U.N. special rapporteur had warned India risked breaking international laws on refoulement — the return of refugees or asylum seekers to a country where they could be harmed.
Legal efforts to stymie their deportation failed when India’s Supreme Court on Thursday rejected a petition on their behalf and upheld their status as illegal immigrants.
“Even the country of their origin has accepted them as its citizens,” a three-judge bench said.
The Rohingya are despised by many in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, which refuses to recognize them as citizens and falsely labels them “Bengali” illegal immigrants.
They were concentrated in Rakhine state, the epicenter of a Myanmar army offensive that over the past year has driven 700,000 Rohingya Muslims into Bangladesh.
Myanmar’s army has denied nearly all wrongdoing, insisting its campaign was justified to root out Rohingya insurgents.
But a U.N. fact-finding mission said there was enough evidence to merit prosecution of several top Myanmar military commanders for crimes against humanity and genocide against Rohingya civilians.
India’s decision “to deport seven Rohingya refugees back to Myanmar is cruel and could put lives at risk of persecution including torture and potential death,” said John Quinley III, a human rights specialist with Fortify Rights, a non-profit organization.
New Delhi considers the Rohingya a security threat, pointing to intelligence which it says links the minority group to extremist organizations.
The government had ordered last year that all Rohingya inside India — New Delhi puts the figure at 40,000 — be deported.
The Supreme Court is considering a petition challenging the order as unconstitutional.
The U.N. says there are 16,000 registered Rohingya in India.