Source: Bloomberg Quint.

Plea in SC seeking immediate release of Rohingya refugees in Jammu sub-jail; restraint on Centre from deporting them

A plea has been filed in the Supreme Court seeking the immediate release of Rohingya refugees detained in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K).

The plea has also sought a direction to restrain the Central Government from deporting the refugees who have been detained at the sub-jail in Jammu even as it prays for an order to be issued to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to expeditiously grant refugee identification cards through the Foreign Regional Registration Office (FRRO) for the Rohingyas in the informal camps.

A direction to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to intervene and determine the protection needs of the Rohingya refugees not just in Jammu but also in camps across the country and to complete the process of granting them refugee cards has also been sought.

The application was moved in a 2017 writ petition on the issue of Rohingyas deportation that has been pending in the Supreme Court.

The applicant, through advocate Prashant Bhushan, submitted that even while the top court was seized of the matter, news reports have been doing rounds since 7 March 2021 of the nearly 150-170 Rohingya refugees in Jammu being detained.

“This follows the Union Minister Jitendra Singh’s statements two months ago that the Rohingya (identified as Muslim refugees by the government) wouldn’t be able to secure citizenship. These refugees have been illegally detained and jailed in the Jammu Sub Jail which has been converted into a holding centre with the IGP (Jammu) Mukesh Singh stating that they face deportation back to Myanmar following verification by their embassy,” the application stated.

The plea contended that the proposed deportation was contrary to the constitutional protections of Article 14, Article 21 and Article 51(c) of the Constitution of India, which provides equal rights and liberty to every ‘person’.

It added any such deportation would violate the principle of ‘Non-Refoulement’ of refugees, which has been widely recognised in several international conventions to which India is a signatory, and is also recognized as a jus cogens (fundamental and non-derogable) principle of Customary International Law.

The plea alleged that despite these constitutional and international law requirements, the centre had failed to carry out their obligations to ensure the protection to the Rohingya community, by proposing to deport them to Myanmar where they face serious violence and persecution.

It called the proposal discriminatory on grounds of religion because it treats the Rohingya differently to all of the other refugees that India has been an ashraya (haven) for including Tibetans, Sri Lankan Tamils and minorities from Bangladesh and Pakistan – despite the Rohingya fleeing equally “grave hells made real”. Minorities from Bangladesh and Pakistan had been officially exempted from documentation requirements, whilst the absence of the same was used against the stateless Rohingya; national security was being used as a bogeyman to assert that the Rohingya were terrorists, though union and state government statements clearly indicate that this is not true.

The plea has been drawn by advocate Cherly D’souza.

The Guardian newspaper recently reported that about 170 Rohingya refugees living in India have been rounded up into detention centres and told they will be forcibly deported back to Myanmar where they had previously fled genocidal human rights abuses.