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India urged to halt forced return of Rohingya refugees

HRW says Indian government's policy toward Rohingya reflects bigotry against religious minorities

India urged to halt forced return of Rohingya refugees

A young Rohingya refugee looks for his belongings amid the charred remains of his camp following a fire in New Delhi on June 13, 2021. (Photo: AFP)

Published: April 01, 2022 05:22 AM GMT

Updated: April 01, 2022 06:31 AM GMT

An international rights group has called on the Indian government to halt the deportation of Rohingya to Myanmar as they face serious risk of persecution.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said India’s forced return of a Rohingya woman to Myanmar on March 22 highlights the life-threatening risks facing Rohingya refugees in India.

It said international law prohibits the forced return of refugees to places where their lives or freedom would be threatened.

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“The Indian government gains nothing by forcibly returning a Rohingya woman to Myanmar while she is separated from her children and puts her at grave risk,” Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director of HRW, said in a March 31 statement.

“The government’s decision to expel Rohingya refugees despite mountains of evidence that their lives and freedoms would be at risk in Myanmar shows cruel disregard for human life and international law.”

At least 240 Rohingya in India are being detained on charges of illegal entry. In addition, 39 are being detained in a shelter in Delhi while 235 others are detained in a holding center in Jammu, according to the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR).

“The Indian authorities are increasingly adopting discriminatory policies against religious minorities, especially Muslims, and their policy toward the Rohingya appears to reflect that bigotry”

Rohingya Muslim refugees in India face tightened restrictions, arbitrary detention, violent attacks often incited by political leaders and a heightened risk of forced returns. Since 2016, ultranationalist Hindu groups have targeted Rohingya refugees in Jammu as part of growing attacks on Muslims in India and called for their expulsion from the country.

An estimated 40,000 Rohingya are in India, at least 20,000 of whom are registered with UNHCR.

The Indian government has deported 12 Rohingya to Myanmar, claiming that they left voluntarily since October 2018, but it has denied repeated requests by UNHCR to gain access to them to independently assess whether the decision was voluntary, according to the rights group.

HRW said Hasina Begum, 36, her husband and three children are registered as refugees with UNHCR. She was among the Rohingya detained by Jammu and Kashmir authorities on March 6, 2021, when the authorities sent them to a holding center as part of a verification process, saying the government planned to deport them.

Her husband told HRW that he and his children have not seen her since she was detained over a year ago.

Last April, Indian authorities planned to deport a 14-year-old Rohingya girl to Myanmar but the move was halted due to criticism from UNHCR and rights groups

The authorities forcibly returned her to Myanmar despite a March 21 order by the Manipur State Human Rights Commission putting the deportation on hold, according to HRW.

The rights group said although India is not a party to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol, the prohibition of refoulement has become a norm of customary international law that India is bound to respect.

“The Indian authorities are increasingly adopting discriminatory policies against religious minorities, especially Muslims, and their policy toward the Rohingya appears to reflect that bigotry,” Ganguly said.

Last April, Indian authorities planned to deport a 14-year-old Rohingya girl to Myanmar but the move was halted due to criticism from UNHCR and rights groups.

She had been sheltered for more than a year in the neighboring Indian state of Assam, while her family lived as refugees in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar, according to media reports.

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