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India’s highest court clears way for Rohingya deportations to Myanmar

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The Indian Supreme Court on Thursday rejected a demand to prevent the government from deporting some 150 Rohingya Muslim police officers detained to Myanmar last month, paving the way for their dispatch to a country where hundreds have been killed as a result of ‘a military coup.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government attempted to remove the Rohingya, a Muslim minority from Myanmar who took refuge in India after fleeing persecution and waves of violence over the years.

Last month, two refugees asked the Supreme Court to release Rohingya men and women detained in the northern Jammu region and to block their deportation by the government.

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But Chief Justice Sharad Arvind Bobde said evictions could take place as long as officials follow due process. “It is not possible to grant the interim relief requested,” the judge said in his order.

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“Regarding the assertion raised on behalf of the petitioners about the current state of affairs in Myanmar, we must state that we cannot comment on something that is happening in another country,” he added.

Hundreds of people have been killed in Myanmar since the military seized power in a February 1 coup.

The move sparked panic among refugees in India, said a Rohingya community leader in New Delhi, declining to be named for fear of reprisal.

“This is a terrifying order issued by the highest court in India,” he said. “Considering the horrific situation in Myanmar, I had really hoped the judge would rule in our favor.”

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The Modi government claims the Rohingya are in the country illegally and pose a security threat. At least a dozen Rohingya have been deported since 2017, according to community leaders.

Officials last week attempted to deport a 16-year-old Rohingya girl and took her to the border, but the attempt was unsuccessful because Myanmar authorities could not be reached, officials said.

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Many Rohingya in India carry identity cards issued by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) recognizing them as refugees, but the country is not a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention. India also rejects the UN position that the expulsion of the Rohingya violates the principle of refoulement, or the forcible return of refugees to a country where they are in danger.

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Thursday’s order shows “blatant disregard” for this principle, said Fazal Abdali, a lawyer involved in the Rohingya deportation cases.

“It sends a message that India is no longer a safe haven for persecuted minorities,” Abdali said.

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