Refusing to reconsider its stand, India on Thursday said Rohingyas are not refugees who have applied for asylum but illegal immigrants who will be deported.
Addressing a seminar organised by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), home minister Rajnath Singh said, “No Rohingya has got asylum in India nor has anyone applied for it. They are illegal immigrants.”
He said it was surprising that some people were objecting to the deportation of Rohingyas when Myanmar was willing to take them back.
“There is a proper procedure to get refugee status but none of these Rohingyas followed it. As a result they have not been given asylum in India so they remain illegal immigrants,’’ he added.
“We have to think about the human rights of our own people before talking about the human rights of people from other countries,” he said.
NHRC chairman Justice H.L. Dattu told reporters after the event that the commission will back Rohingyas on humanitarian grounds because they are being persecuted in Myanmar.
The home minister earlier said that the principle of “non-refoulement” did not apply to Rohingyas since it is limited to only those seeking asylum on account of persecution.
“No Rohingya has got asylum in India nor have they applied for it. That is why we should not commit the mistake of according them status of refugees in the name of human rights,” he said.
In an affidavit filed in the Supreme Court, the Centre recently made clear its intentions to send Rohingyas back as they allegedly have terror links and are a “security threat”. The Rohingyas are being represented in court by leading advocates like Fali S. Nariman, Rajeev Dhavan, Kapil Sibal, Colin Gonsalves and Prashant Bhushan.
Mr Singh said that since India is not a signatory to the UN’s Refugees Convention, 1951, it would not be violating any international law if it deports Rohingyas.
Any sovereign country is free to take a decision on what action needs to be initiated against illegal immigrants as national security is also involved, he said.
While referring to a recent statement by Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi that Myanmar is willing to resettle some of the refugees, Mr Singh said that he is hopeful that Myanmar would take effective steps to take back these illegal immigrants.
The NHRC had recently issued a notice to the Centre on the issue of deportation of Rohingyas. Justice Dattu told on reporters on the sidelines of the event, “We are taking up the case of Rohingyas on humanitarian grounds but I cannot comment on the government line.”
Rohingyas are minority Muslims in western Myanmar fleeing homes following an Army crackdown that has left hundreds dead. Army offensive came after Rohingya militants attacked security forces in Rakhine on August 25. UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein has called the crackdown a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.
According to the UN estimates, over 379,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar’s Rakhine state into Bangladesh since August 25.