India’s Supreme Court hears plea against Rohingya deportation

NEW DELHI (AFP): India´s Supreme Court on Monday began hearing a plea challenging a government decision to deport up to 40,000 Muslim Rohingya who have fled Myanmar, a lawyer said.

The petition was filed on behalf of two Rohingya living at a refugee camp in New Delhi since escaping Myanmar, where a military crackdown since August 25 has led to more than 400,000 Rohingya taking refuge in Bangladesh.

The challenge came after India´s junior home minister Kiren Rijiju said last month the government would expel all Rohingya, even those registered with the United Nations. According to media reports, the government will argue that the Rohingya are a security threat who could aid terrorists.

The Rohingya have denied any link with extremist groups. Lawyer Prashant Bhushan, representing the Rohingya, said the Indian constitution “provides equal rights and liberty to every person”, including non-citizens.

The United Nations says there are 16,000 registered Rohingya in India. But many more are undocumented. About 7,000 Rohingya live in shanties in India´s Jammu region in the Himalayas. They say they have faced hostility from the majority Hindu community there.

Mohammad Salimullah, one of the petitioners, said the authorities had always been helpful in New Delhi so he was hopeful the court would back the refugees. “In the five or six years that we have been here, we have never felt that we are foreigners here nor have we ever felt any kind of fear,” Salimullah told AFP ahead of the case.

The Rohingya have been leaving mainly Buddhist Myanmar — where the government calls them illegal migrants and refuses them nationality — in steady numbers for years before the military crackdown last month that opened the floodgates. While Bangladesh has been the main destination, some have ended up in neighbouring India and Nepal. There are also some in Pakistan.