India can’t deport Rohingya refugees, says UNHCR
New Delhi, Sep 21: As the Narendra Modi government in its affidavit to the Supreme Court recently stated its plans to deport around 40,000 Rohingyas currently staying in different parts of the country, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said that India was bound by law not to deport the refugees.
The UN organisation added that New Delhi was bound by international law to protect refugees who face danger in their home country.
In an e-mail reply to The New Indian Express, the UNHCR's India headquarters in New Delhi said: "The principle of non-refoulement is considered part of customary international law and therefore binding on all states whether they have signed the Refugee Convention or not. In addition, India is party to major international human rights instruments such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and Convention on the Rights of the Child."
On Monday, the Centre told the apex court that since India is not a signatory to the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, 1951, the obligations concerned to non-refoulement is not applicable.
"That the provisions of Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, 1951 and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, 1967 cannot be relied upon by the petitioner since India is not a signatory of either of them. It is respectfully submitted that the obligation concerning the prohibition of return/non-refoulement is a codified provision under the provisions of 1951 Convention referred to above.
"It is submitted that this obligation is binding only in respect of the States which are parties to the Convention.
Since India is not a party to the said Convention, or the said Protocol, the obligations contained therein are not applicable to India," it said.
The Centre in its affidavit to the apex court stated that there are some 43,000 Rohingya refugees in India currently. But the UNHCR says only 16,500 are registered with it.
The UNHCR issues ID cards to registered refugees and documents to asylum-seekers, which helps prevent arbitrary arrests, detention and deportation.
The Centre told the Supreme Court that Rohingya Muslims are "illegal" immigrants in the country and their continued stay posed "serious national security ramifications".
The Centre's affidavit, filed in the apex court Registry, said the fundamental right to reside and settle in any part of the country is available to citizens only and illegal refugees cannot invoke the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court to enforce the right.
"As evident from the constitutional guarantee flowing from Article 19 of the Constitution, the right to reside and settle in any part of the territory of India as well as right to move freely throughout the territory of India is available only to the citizens of India... No illegal immigrant can pray for a writ of this Court which directly or indirectly confer the fundamental rights in general...," the affidavit filed by the Ministry of Home Affairs said.
The Centre said the Rohingya refugees were illegals and their continuous stay pose a grave security threat.
"It is submitted that continuance of Rohingyas' illegal immigration into India and their continued stay in India, apart from being absolutely illegal, is found to be having serious national security ramifications and has serious security threats," it said.
The government said it may file in sealed cover the details of the security threats and inputs gathered by the various security agencies in this matter.