India’s Supreme Court on Thursday rejected a petition seeking to stop the government from deporting seven Rohingya men to neighbouring Myanmar, paving the way for their return later in the day.
The men had been in a jail in eastern India since 2012 on charges of illegal entry, and police sent them to the border on Wednesday for deportation - the first such move against the community.
“We don’t want to interfere with the (government’s)decision,” Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi said in rejecting an application to halt their deportation.
The United Nations refugee agency has said conditions in Myanmar’s Rakhine State are not safe for the Rohingya, a stateless Muslim minority who have faced persecution in Buddhist-majority Myanmar.
More than 700,000 Rohingya, according to U.N. agencies, have escaped Rakhine to neighbouring Bangladesh over the past year, bringing accounts of mass killings, arson, and rapes by the Myanmar army.
U.N. officials described the Myanmar military’s action as ethnic cleansing. Myanmar has denied the charges, saying its military launched a counter-insurgency operation after attacks on security forces by Muslim militants in August last year.
Some 40,000 Rohingya live in India after having escaped earlier bouts of violence and persecution in Myanmar.
Rights groups criticized the government’s decision to forcibly return the Rohingya.
Human Rights Watch said “deporting these men will place them at severe risk of torture and abuse.” Amnesty International said their deportations “violates customary international law.”
Prashant Bhuhan, a lawyer who filed a court petition seeking a halt to the deportations, told Reuters the seven men “may be tortured and even may be killed there. It is a clear case of human rights violation.”
The government said in an affidavit filed in the Supreme Court on Thursday the deportations were “an administrative decision involving diplomatic and other considerations including an overwhelming consideration of national interest.”
India’s Supreme Court is also hearing a case against a government order last year that states should identify and deport all Rohingya, calling them illegal immigrants who pose a national security risk.