Rohingyas Deportation Issue: UNHCR reaction and Supreme Court history on refugee crises

September 12, 2017 |

India has drawn international condemnation for the government position to deport Rohingya Muslims to Myanmar.  The latest voice to criticise India is Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).   


Al Hussein said India “cannot carry out collective expulsions and return people to a place where they face persecution. He further commented that he deplore(s) current measures in India to deport Rohingyas at a time of such violence against them in their country. Some 40,000 Rohingyas have settled in India, and 16,000 of them have received refugee documentation.” 


The Minister of State for Home Affairs has reportedly said that because India is not a signatory to the Refugee Convention, the country can dispense with international law on the matter, together with basic human compassion. 


However, by virtue of customary law, its ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the obligations of due process and the universal principle of non-refoulement, India cannot carry out collective expulsions, or return people to a place where they risk torture or other serious violations.


Back in 1996 in the Chakma Refugee matter the Indian Supreme Court, despite the government’s anti-immigrant stand, stood up for the rights of Chamka Refugees and ordered against their forcible eviction in the case of Arunachal Pradesh v NHRC.


The apex court in a matter decided by Chief Justice, A.M. Ahmadi and Justice S.C. Sen had held that immigrants, even those termed illegal, were entitled to equal protection of the law and various rights that flow from Article 21. The judgment stressed that the State could not permit any groups or anybody to threaten Chakmas and force them to leave the State.


The present petition which has been filed by two Rohingya immigirants, Mohammad Salimullah and Mohammad Shaqir, will decide the fate of the 40,000 Rohingya Muslims who are living as immigrants in India.  


The matter has been placed before the bench comprising of Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justice A.M. Khanwilkar and Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and the next hearing date is 18th September, 2017. 


It will be interesting to see if the Supreme Court in the Rohingyas Deportation Case (Muhammad Salimullah v UOI) relies on the Arunachal Pradesh v NHRC case to prevent deportation or weighs the issue from “national security” paradigm to uphold their deportation policy.