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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 June 2018

India's top court to hear plea against Rohingya deportation

Indian government's threat comes as ethnic minority suffers amid deadly violence in Myanmar

A boy from the Rohingya community stands outside a shack in a camp in Delhi. A challenge to the Indian government's order to deport all Rohingya will be heard by the supreme court on September 4, 2017. Cathal McNaughton / Reuters / August 17, 2017
A boy from the Rohingya community stands outside a shack in a camp in Delhi. A challenge to the Indian government's order to deport all Rohingya will be heard by the supreme court on September 4, 2017. Cathal McNaughton / Reuters / August 17, 2017

India's supreme court has agreed to hear a petition challenging the government's decision to deport all of the estimated 40,000 Rohingya Muslims living in the country after fleeing persecution in Myanmar, a lawyer involved in the case said on Friday.

A petition was filed on behalf of two Rohingya men who live in Delhi after fleeing their village in Myanmar's Rakhine state, where the latest surge of violence has killed at least 400 people and sent about 40,000 Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh.

Indian prime minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist government said last month it was going to expel all Rohingya, even those registered with the UN refugee agency, drawing criticism from aid groups and some politicians.

"The supreme court realises the urgency of it, that's why they have agreed to hear it on Monday," lawyer Prashant Bhushan said.

"You can't send somebody away to face certain death in another country, that would be a violation of his Article 21 rights."

Mr Bhushan said the Indian constitution's Article 21, on the protection of life and personal liberty, applied to non-citizens.

Deportation would also contradict the principle of non-refoulement - or not sending back refugees to a place where they face danger, he said.

Home ministry spokesman K S Dhatwalia declined to comment, saying the government would present its case to the court.

India's foreign ministry said Mr Modi would raise the Rohingya issue during a two-day visit to Myanmar from Tuesday.

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Mohammad Salimullah, the first petitioner, came to India in 2012 via the eastern state of West Bengal, on the border with Bangladesh, according to the petition.

The second petitioner, Mohammad Shaqir, arrived in 2011.

Both said in the petitions that their lives would be in danger if they were sent back to Myanmar, where clashes broke out last Friday after Rohingya insurgents wielding sticks, knives and crude bombs attacked police posts and an army base.

The Rohingya are denied citizenship in Buddhist-majority Myanmar and regarded as illegal immigrants, despite claiming roots that date back centuries.

Bangladesh is also growing hostile to Rohingya, more than 400,000 of whom live there after fleeing Myanmar since the early 1990s.

From Bangladesh, many Rohingya have crossed a porous border into Hindu-majority India, where they are starting to get vilified by some right-wing groups.

"We should not be targeted just because we are Muslims," said Ali Johar, a Rohingya who came to India in 2012 and lives with his family in a Delhi settlement.

"We've already faced persecution in Myanmar. India should not do anything that will show them as racist."

Myanmar denies persecuting the Rohingya. It says its security forces are tackling "terrorists" who have launched attacks in Rakhine state.