THE INDIAN government has declared all of an estimated 40,000 Rohingya Muslims within its borders “illegal” and that it will deport them, regardless of United Nations refugee status.
India’s Home Affairs Minister Kiren Rijuju told parliament last week local authorities have been directed to identify, arrest and deport “illegal immigrants” including some 14,000 Rohingyas who are officially registered with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
“They are doing it, we can’t stop them from registering. But we are not signatory to the accord on refugees,” said Rijuju as quoted by the Hindustan Times newspaper.
The minister, a prominent member of Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi’s government, cited India’s limited resources to host refugees and claimed Rohingya migrants pose a national security threat.
“As far as we are concerned, they are all illegal immigrants. They have no basis to live here. Anybody who is an illegal migrant will be deported,” he said.
The Rohingya are a persecuted, stateless minority from Buddhist-majority Burma (Myanmar), who have fled in the hundreds of thousands in recent years. Some one million remain in Burma, whose communities are subject to social marginalisation, official discrimination and communal violence.
More than 75,000 people are said to have fled across the Bangladeshi border since clashes with the military broke out in October 2016, leading to a harsh crackdown by Burmese authorities.
India imposes strict immigration laws on all foreign citizens. This announcement of a crackdown against migrants, however, comes amid rising Hindu nationalism and anti-Muslim sentiment which have seen a rise in violent assaults and deaths among its minority Muslim community.
A recent report showed in 2016, there were more than 700 incidents of communal violence which killed 86 and injured more than 2,000 people. Many of these attacks were on members of India’s Muslim community, which represents some 15 percent of the population.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has expressed concern over the announcement.
“Obviously, we have our concerns about the treatment of refugees. Once refugees are registered, they are not to be returned to countries where they fear persecution,” a spokesman for Guterres told reporters on Monday as quoted by the Times of India.
The UN said India cannot forcibly return people to danger in their country of origin under the non-refoulement principle of customary international law.