India’s top court questioned the government Friday over its intention to deport thousands of Rohingya refugees settled in the country, even as border guards keep turning back members of that community fleeing Myanmar following a fresh wave of violence.
The Supreme Court put a temporary hold on the government’s expulsion plan as it heard a plea filed by two Rohingya immigrants who face deportation at the hands of the Hindu nationalist-led government.
“The constitution is based on humanitarian values. The state has a multi-pronged role. While national security and economic interests need to be secured, innocent women and children cannot be ignored,” the Supreme Court observed Friday.
The petitioners, who are among some 16,500 Rohingya refugees settled in India and registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), filed an appeal against a recent decision by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to deport all Rohingya Muslims who have settled in the country.
There are about 40,000 Rohingya currently living in India, according to official estimates. They claim to have escaped Buddhist-majority Myanmar due to widespread discrimination and violence against their community.
A fresh wave of violence that erupted Aug. 25 in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, where the Rohingya come from, has forced more than 500,000 people from that community to flee their homes to Bangladesh in hopes of a safer life across the border, according to figures from the U.N.
Rohingya refugees settled in India pose a “serious national security” threat as they are vulnerable to radicalization by terror outfits, according to a note released by the government in August.
The court said it would hear the matter in detail when it convenes again on Nov. 21, until which time the government’s decision to deport the refugees will be on hold.
Earlier this week, a group of eminent Indian personalities wrote a widely publicized letter to Modi, saying his government’s assumption that the entire Rohingya community was a threat to national security was based on “false assumption.”
The letter, signed by 51 prominent Indian names, said that an inspiring global leader like India could not afford such a “short-sighted approach.”
Meanwhile, India’s Border Security Force said it had beefed up its vigilance along the porous India-Bangladesh frontier in the country’s northeast, on government orders that the BSF prevent Rohingya who were fleeing the latest round of violence in Myanmar from entering Indian territory.
“We have identified at least 50 vulnerable spots where there is a strong possibility of Rohingya refugees trying to cross over to the Indian side. As per the Home Ministry order we have increased vigil in these areas,” P.S.R. Anajaneyulu, BSF’s inspector general, told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.
Over the last year, he said, about a thousand potential asylum seekers had been pushed back. But he could not say if all of them were Rohingya.
“It is difficult to identify all those who tried to sneak into India. They might be Bangladeshi. Cross-border infiltration has always been a challenge,” Anajaeyulu said.
Sensitive locations where security has been increased include the Muslim-dominated districts of North 24 Parganas, Murshidabad, Nadia in West Bengal, and the Dhubri districts in Assam. At least 170 Rohingya have been arrested while trying to cross into India over the last year from these areas, the officer said.
Of the total 4,096-km (2,545-mile) long India-Bangladesh border, 2,217 km (1,377 miles) are in West Bengal, 856 km (532 miles) are in Tripura, 443 km (275 miles) are in Meghalaya, 262 km (163 miles) are in Assam, and 180 km (112 miles) are in Mizoram.
‘Helpless and hopeless’
Even as the Supreme Court reserved its judgment, rights activists came down heavily on the government, saying it is India’s moral duty to allow Rohingya refugees to stay on in the country.
“Rohingya are staying peacefully in India. India cannot begin or support the community’s expulsion,” Arihit Sen of Amnesty International India told BenarNews.
Another activist called the government’s move to deport Rohingya an attempt by right-wing groups to ignite an anti-Muslim sentiment in Hindu-majority India.
“It is a clear case of discrimination and an attempt by right-wing groups in India to ignite Hindus against Muslims,” Prashant Bhushan, a prominent rights lawyer, told BenarNews.
The Rohingya refugees say they are being “unfairly targeted.”
“We feel helpless and hopeless,” Ali Johar, a Rohingya who has been living in a Delhi camp since 2012, told BenarNews.
“India is the world’s largest democracy. It has given us shelter. But it should handle the situation more empathetically,” he said.
Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.