Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is trying to send back Rohingyas, a Muslim minority from Myanmar who has found refuge in India after fleeing persecution and waves of violence over the years.
His petition added that the Indian constitution – which states that no person should be deprived of personal life or liberty – in principle includes the concept of non-refoulement, which prohibits the expulsion of refugees to a country where they are likely to be subjected to persecution.
But Justice President Sharad Arvind Bobde said deportations could go on as long as the authorities followed suit.
“It is not possible to grant the provisional guardianship for which it was requested,” said the judge in his order. “With regard to the restraint on behalf of the petitioners over the current state of affairs in Myanmar, we must state that we cannot comment on something that is happening in another country.”
He added in the order that India is not a signatory to the 1951 United Nations Convention on the Status of Refugees, and that the principle of non-refoulement applies only to member states. In addition, he added, India’s porous land borders result in a “continuing threat of influx of illegal immigrants”, which represents “serious ramifications for national security”.
India has no legislation specifically referring to refugees – so Rohingya refugees are often labeled as illegal immigrants subject to deportation by the government under the Foreigners Act of 1946 and the Foreigners Order of 1948
Hundreds of people have been killed in Myanmar since the army took power in a coup on February 1.
The decision sparked panic among refugees in India, a leader of the Rohingya community in New Delhi, who declined to be identified for fear of reprisals, told Reuters.
“This is a terrible order from India’s highest court,” he said. “Given the horrific situation in Myanmar, I really expected the judge to decide in our favor.”
The Modi government says the Rohingya are illegally in the country and are a security threat. At least a dozen Rohingya have been deported since 2017, according to community leaders.