Any measures taken by Indian authorities to forcibly return Rohingya refugees and asylum-seekers to Myanmar, where they are at risk of serious human rights violations, would be a flagrant violation of international law, Amnesty International India said today.

Media reports published on 4 April suggested that the Union Ministry of Home Affairs was planning to “identify, arrest and deport” thousands of Rohingya refugees and asylum-seekers from various states in India.

“Sending Rohingya Muslims back to Myanmar - where the community has faced horrific abuses - would not just be a violation of India’s commitments under international law, but also a blemish on India’s history of supporting those fleeing persecution,” said Raghu Menon, Media and Advocacy Manager at Amnesty International India.

Rohingya Muslims, who are among the most persecuted minorities in the world, have faced years of discrimination, repression and violence in Myanmar. In December 2016, Amnesty International documented a brutal campaign of violence against the Rohingya by security forces in Myanmar, which could amount to crimes against humanity. The organization found evidence of a wide range of human rights violations in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State, including unlawful killings, multiple rapes, and the burning down of hundreds of Rohingya homes and buildings.

Forcing Rohingya asylum-seekers and refugees back to Myanmar would violate the international principle of non-refoulement - which is recognized in 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 which recognize this principle, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

“Indian authorities know very well the abuses the Rohingya community have been facing in Myanmar. Deporting them and abandoning them to their fates would be unconscionable,” said Raghu Menon.

“As a country aspiring to a larger global role, India needs to urgently sign the Refugee Convention and put in place a robust domestic framework to protect refugee rights”.

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.

In February, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) published a report which documented the human rights violations against Rohingya people. In March, the UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar presented her latest findings on human rights violations in Myanmar.

Reports of the Special Rapporteur, the OHCHR, Amnesty International and other organizations have found that Rohingya women and girls have been raped, hundreds of people forcibly disappeared and an unknown number killed by security forces in Myanmar. Tens of thousands of Rohingya people have been displaced – many after their homes were burned to the ground by state security forces.

In March, India, at the UN Human Rights Council, also supported through consensus the creation of an international fact-finding mission to look into human rights violations in Rakhine state.