In first hearing before Supreme Court, government claims there is ‘serious potential’ of refugees attacking Buddhists
The Indian government told the country’s top court on Monday that the Muslim Rohingya who have fled Myanmar are a serious security threat as it sought to justify moves to deport up to 40,000 of the refugees.
Mukesh Mittal, a senior home ministry official, said the Supreme Court must let the government to take a decision in Indian interests because of Rohingya links to extremist groups. The case is being heard as Bangladesh struggles with more than 410,000 Rohingya who have flooded across the border since Aug. 25 when the military in Buddhist-dominated Myanmar launched a crackdown on the minority Muslim group.
Countries across the region fear they will feel the fallout from the crisis.
“Some of the Rohingyas with militant background are also found to be very active in Jammu, Delhi, Hyderabad and Mewat and have been identified as having a very serious and potential threat to the national security of India,” Mittal said in a written submission to the Supreme Court. The statement highlighted the “serious potential” for an “eruption of violence against the Buddhists who are Indian citizens who stay on Indian soil.” It also said the government had intelligence indicating links between Rohingya refugees and Islamic State and other extremist groups.
Rohingya community leaders have denied any link with Islamist extremism.
The statement came in response to a petition filed at the Supreme Court challenging a government decision to deport the Rohingya, many of whom have been in India for the past decade. Many experts have questioned where India could send the Rohingya.
Human Rights Watch urged India, the world’s biggest democracy, to follow the international principle of non-refoulement, which prohibits sending back refugees to a place where their lives are in danger.
“India should not be behaving like the abusive Myanmar government,” said HRW’s South Asia director Meenakshi Ganguly. “There should be no collective punishment. If there is credible evidence of militancy against individuals, that should be brought before the court,” she told AFP.
The United Nations says there are 16,000 registered Rohingya in India, but many more are undocumented. The government puts the figure at 40,000. About 7,000 of them live in shanties in India’s Jammu region in the Himalayas where they say they have faced hostility from the majority Hindu community there.
The government of Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi said last month it had asked state authorities to identify and deport Rohingya living in their territory. It says the Rohingya cannot use the 1951 Refugee Convention or the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees since India was not a signatory to either.
Lawyer Prashant Bhushan, representing the Rohingya at the Supreme Court hearing, said the Indian constitution “provides equal rights and liberty to every person” including non-citizens.
Myanmar claims the community are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and denies them citizenship. The stateless Rohingya have been fleeing Myanmar for decades.
The latest exodus began after Rohingya militants attacked police posts in Rakhine state on Aug. 25 triggering a military backlash. The U.N. has said the army action could amount to ethnic cleansing.
Mohammad Salimullah, one of the two Rohingya petitioners, said the authorities in New Delhi had always been helpful so he was hopeful the court would support 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,” said Salimullah ahead of the case.
While Bangladesh has been the main destination for Rohingya over the years, some have ended up in India and Nepal. There are also some in Pakistan.
The hearing will continue next month.