Indian authorities labelling all Rohingya refugees and asylum-seekers in India as illegal immigrants and ordering deportation to Myanmar where they are at risk of serious human rights violations is an abject dereliction of India’s human rights obligations and an egregious violation of international law, Amnesty International India said today.

In an interview with the Reuters news agency published on 14 August, Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju said his government considers all Rohingya refugees and asylum-seekers in India as illegal immigrants, including those registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Earlier, in a circular issued to all state governments and union territory (UT) administrations on 8 August, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said the “detection and deportation of such illegal immigrants from Rakhine state, also known as Rohingyas is a continuous process”. The MHA advised all states and UTs to “sensitize all the law enforcement and intelligence agencies for taking prompt steps in identifying the illegal immigrants and initiate the deportation process expeditiously and without delay”.

“Characterising Rohingya refugees and asylum-seekers as illegal immigrants and ordering their immediate deportation takes no account of the reasons why they had to flee their homes and the grave risks they may face if forcibly returned. It also shows blatant disregard for India’s obligations under international law,” said Raghu Menon, Advocacy Manager at Amnesty International India.

The Rohingya, who are largely Muslim and live in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, are a minority group who have faced decades of discrimination, repression and violence at the hands of the Myanmar authorities. In December 2016, Amnesty International published a report describing a brutal campaign of violence against the Rohingya by security forces in Myanmar following fatal attacks on border police posts in October 2016 in northern Rakhine State. The organization found evidence of a wide range of human rights violations, including unlawful killings, arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, torture and other ill-treatment, notably rape and other sexual violence, and the burning down of hundreds of Rohingya homes and buildings, which may amount to crimes against humanity. In February, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) published a report which also concluded Myanmar security forces likely committed crimes against humanity during security operations.

Forcing Rohingya asylum-seekers and refugees back to Myanmar would violate the international principle of non-refoulement - which is part of customary international law and is binding on India - that forbids states from forcibly returning people to a country where they would be at real risk of serious human rights violations. India is also a state party to other international treaties under which it must comply with this principle, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

“Indian authorities are well aware of the human rights violations Rohingya Muslims have had to face in Myanmar and it would be outrageous to abandon them to their fates. India should also urgently accede to the Refugee Convention and bring an end to such arbitrary decision making on the fates of those fleeing persecution,” said Raghu Menon.

In March 2017 the UN Human Rights Council, of which India is a member, adopted without a vote a resolution that called for an international fact-finding mission “to establish the facts and circumstances of the alleged recent human rights violations by military and security forces, and abuses, in Myanmar, in particular in Rakhine State.”

“As a close neighbour, India is in a position to exert influence on Myanmar and should use this to convince the Myanmar government to grant full access to a UN mandated Fact-Finding Mission in order to investigate the horrific allegations of human rights violations in Rakhine State and elsewhere in the country,” said Raghu Menon.

“The people of Myanmar, and the international community, have the right to know the full truth of events in Rakhine State.”

Background

Despite being home to thousands of refugees, India is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention or the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, and does not have a domestic legal refugee protection framework. The treatment of refugees falls largely under the Foreigners Act of 1946, which makes no distinction between asylum-seekers, refugees and other foreigners. The Act makes undocumented physical presence in the country a crime.

The Indian government has mandated the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to register and provide assistance to refugees from non-neighbouring countries and Myanmar. According to UNHCR, there are around 14,000 registered Rohingya people in India, including 3,000 asylum-seekers and 11,000 who have been granted refugee status by the organization. However the Indian government does not officially recognize these people as refugees.