NEW DELHI • All of an estimated 40,000 Rohingya Muslims living in India are illegal immigrants, even those registered with the United Nations refugee agency, and the government aims to deport them, a senior government official told Reuters.
Junior Interior Minister Kiren Rijiju told Parliament last week that the central government had directed the state authorities to identify and deport illegal immigrants including Rohingya, who face persecution in Buddhist-majority Myanmar.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has issued identity cards to about 16,500 Rohingya in India, saying these help them "prevent harassment, arbitrary arrests, detention and deportation".
But Mr Rijiju, a high-profile minister in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist government, said in an interview at the weekend that the UNHCR registration was irrelevant. "They are doing it, we can't stop them from registering. But we are not signatory to the accord on refugees," he said.
"As far as we are concerned, they are all illegal immigrants. They have no basis to live here. Anybody who is (an) illegal migrant will be deported."
The UNHCR's India office said yesterday that the principle of non-refoulement - or not sending back refugees to a place where they face danger - was considered part of customary international law and binding on all states, whether they have signed the Refugee Convention or not.
The office said it had not received any official word about a plan to deport Rohingya refugees, and had not got any reports that deportations were taking place.
The treatment of the roughly one million Rohingya in Myanmar has emerged as its most contentious human rights issue as it makes a transition from decades of harsh military rule.
The Rohingya are denied citizenship in Myanmar and classified as illegal immigrants, despite claiming roots there that go back centuries, with communities marginalised and occasionally subjected to communal violence.
Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have fled from Myanmar, with many taking refuge in Bangladesh, and some then crossing a porous border into Hindu-majority India.