NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to hear a “substantial question" on whether illegal immigrants can be granted the status of refugees.
Two Rohingya men had moved the Supreme Court against the Centre’s proposed plan to deport 40,000 members of the community to the land of their origin, Myanmar. They had fled Myanmar fearing execution and discrimination at the hands of the government there.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta submitted before a bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi that their main prayer was to stop any proposal in connection with deportation and let international laws regarding community rights govern the matter.
“But first decide whether they are refugees... Whether illegal immigrants can even be allowed the status of refugees... This is the substantial question here," Mehta argued.
The court said it would examine the “substantial question" on the issue and asked the parties involved to complete the pleading till the next date of hearing.
India first deported seven Rohingya men to Myanmar in October 2018 and it sparked fears of further repatriations among those sheltered in Indian refugee camps. It followed India’s Supreme Court refusing to stop the deportation of the seven.
Thousands of Rohingya Muslims have been fleeing the Rakhine State on Myanmar’s western coast for years, often caught between the military and Rohingya insurgents who have fought a bloody war for years. The refugees mostly landed in Bangladesh, but some crossed over into India also.
India estimates that 40,000 Rohingya live in the country in camps across the country, including the capital, New Delhi, having arrived over the years after fleeing violence and persecution in Myanmar, which denies them citizenship.
In August, a UN report accused the Myanmar military of mass killings and rapes of Rohingya with “genocidal intent" in 2017 in an operation that drove more than 700,000 of them to flee to neighboring Bangladesh, according to UN agencies. Myanmar has denied the charges, saying its military launched a counter-insurgency operation after attacks on security posts by Muslim militants.
Reuters contributed to this story.