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Bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi directs Assam government to ensure that the refugees are handed over to Myanmar authorities

The Supreme Court, on Thursday (October 4), allowed the deportation of seven illegal Rohingya immigrants to Myanmar from Assam.

The development has triggered a sharp reaction from the United Nations with Tendayi Achiume, the Special Rapporteur on racism and xenophobia at the office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, stating that the move “is a flagrant denial of their (the affected Rohingyas’) right to protection and could amount to refoulement”.

The bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and KM Joseph gave directions to the Assam government for deporting the seven Rohingya refugees after Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Tushar Mehta informed the court that the “people in question entered into Indian territory illegally… upon verification  by the (Indian) ministry of external affairs, the government of Myanmar had confirmed these persons to be Myanmar nationals and agreed to grant them certificate of identification for deportation purposes.”

The ASG also told the Bench that the identification certificate that the refugees will be granted by the Myanmar government would be valid for a month and the affected persons will, during this period, have to finish the repatriation process initiated by the Myanmar establishment.

Earlier this year, under immense international pressure, the Myanmar government and State Counsellor – Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi – had announced that Rohingyas (one of the world’s most persecuted ethnic minorities) could return to Myanmar’s strife-torn Rakhine State following the repatriation process started by the government and upon verification of their identification certificates. India is home to several thousand Rohingya refugees who had been forced to flee the Rakhine State following allegedly state-sponsored atrocities on them by the Myanmar Junta. The Indian government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has consistently maintained that these refugees, spread across the country but with high concentration in north eastern states, are a threat to national security and have been involved in terror activities – a claim for which the Centre hasn’t presented any credible evidence as yet.

The extant case emanated from a plea moved in the Supreme Court, on Wednesday, seeking to restrain the Centre from deporting the seven Rohingyas lodged in a detention centre at Silchar in Assam to Myanmar. While Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi had refused “urgent mentioning” of the case on Wednesday, it came up for regular hearing on Thursday morning. Earlier too, a PIL by two Rohingya immigrants — Mohammad Salimullah and Mohammad Shaqir — had been moved in the apex court challenging the Centre’s decision to deport over 40,000 refugees who came to India after fleeing from Myanmar.

The seven Rohingya immigrants will be handed over to the Myanmar authorities at Moreh border post in Manipur later on Thursday, a Home Ministry has said. The top court said on Thursday that the “State of Assam be directed to take necessary steps to bring these people (the seven Rohingyas) to the (Moreh) border so that they could be sent back to their home country.”

The United Nations which has repeatedly slammed the atrocities on Rohingyas and the Myanmar government’s failure to give credible assurances of the safe return of the ethnic minority has reacted sharply to the Modi government’s decision to deport the refugees.

“Given the ethnic identity of the men, this is a flagrant denial of their right to protection and could amount to refoulement. The (Indian) government has an international legal obligation to acknowledge the institutionalised discrimination, persecution, hate and gross human rights violations these people have faced in their country of origin and provide them the necessary protection,” Tendayi Achiume, the Special Rapporteur on racism and xenophobia at the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights said.

                                                                                                    —India Legal Bureau

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