India can’t become refugee capital of the world, Centre tells SC in Rohingya case
The Supreme Court is hearing a bunch of petitions seeking to restrain the Centre from deporting about 40,000 Rohingya Muslims, who have fled alleged persecution in Myanmar.
India cannot become the refugee capital of the world, the Centre told the Supreme Court on Wednesday in a case relating to the Rohingya Muslims crossing the border from Myanmar into India, even as the National Human Rights (NHRC) suggested that the rights of the refugees must be protected.
The Supreme Court is hearing a bunch of petitions seeking to restrain the Centre from deporting about 40,000 Rohingya Muslims, who have fled alleged persecution in Myanmar. The process of sending them back has been temporarily stopped on the court’s advice.
“We do not want India to become the refugee capital of the world. People from every other country will flood our country,” additional solicitor general Tushar Mehta told a bench headed by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra.
Mehta made his submission in response to a fresh application filed by advocate Prashant Bhushan,who complained that Rohinyas were being driven away from the Indian border. The court have Mehta till March 7 to respond on a plea to grant asylum to an additional 8,000 odd Rohingya Muslim refugees.
During the hearing, the NHRC came out in support of the petitioners. “The government must protect the rights of Rohingya refugees in India, including access of their children to schools and other facilities,” senior advocate Gopal Subramanian told the bench on behalf of the commission.
He supported the plea for refugee status to Rohingyas already in the country. As regards to those looking to enter the border, the senior advocate said he would like to seek instructions.
“This is not a matter in which there can be any leniency,” Mehta told the court, in sync with the government’s stand that the Rohingya Muslims are a national security risk. Subramanian, however, countered by saying that the Rohingyas had the right to ask the top court for basic rights such as security, education, and healthcare.
To Bhushan’s contention that India must welcome the refugees due to its international and humanitarian obligations, Justice DY Chandrachud asked if the same judicial standards that applied to refugees living in India could be applied to those attempting to enter the country.
There was a need to balance national interests with humanitarian concern of the refugees, the judge remarked.
Senior advocate Rajeev Dhawan, who had earlier appeared for the NHRC and is now a petitioner-in-person, responded to Chandrachud’s query: “When someone comes to your border and says I am a refugee, it has to be determined whether he is one or not. He cannot be blindly pushed back. Let the government take it up through diplomatic channels, but this court should also decide on its own,” the lawyer said.
“We cannot push them back to the jaws of death,” said former law minister and senior advocate Ashwini Kumar, appearing for the refugees. “Minimum humanitarian morality should be shown to them at the border,” he contended.
The West Bengal government also supported the plea for refugee status for the Rohingya Muslims.