THE GOVERNMENT Thursday “repatriated” seven Rohingya men, who were jailed in Assam for entering India illegally six years ago, to Myanmar through the Moreh border in Manipur, hours after the Supreme Court refused to interfere in the process. The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said the men had requested that “the Embassy of the Union of Myanmar should issue them relevant travel documents to facilitate their return”. It said their willingness to return was “reconfirmed” and the process took place according to “established procedures and laws”.
An official at the Myanmar Embassy in New Delhi told The Indian Express that the men were detained on arrival in the “illegal migrant case” for verification, and would be allowed to go back to their villages. But he did not specify a timeline for the process. Manipur Police said that the seven men were repatriated around 1.30 pm. “Manipur and Assam police personnel were present, and the seven persons were handed over to the Myanmar authorities,” S Ibomcha Singh, SP of Tengnoupal district in Manipur, said. A senior Manipur Police officer posted in Moreh said the men returned to Myanmar through the Indo-Myanmar Friendship Gate No 2.
Assam Police documents identified the seven as Md Inus, Md Sabir Ahmed, Md Jamal, Md Salam, Md Mukbul Khan, Md Rohimuddin and Md Jamal Hussain, who were arrested on July 29, 2012, and detained under the Foreigners Act, 1964. The repatriation came after a Supreme Court bench, headed by the new Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, turned down a plea to restrain the government from sending back the seven men who had been detained and lodged in the Central Jail in Assam’s Silchar.
The petitioners’ counsel Prashant Bhushan told the bench, as it started to dictate the order, that it was the court’s responsibility to protect the Rohingya. CJI Gogoi said: “Mr Counsel, we are aware of our responsibilities. You don’t have to remind us”. Bhushan had opposed the government’s contention that the men were “illegal immigrants” and said that they had fled a genocide allegedly carried out by the Myanmarese military and were refugees according to the UN. He said that a UN official should be allowed to talk to them and confirm if they wanted to go back.
Appearing for the Centre, Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told the bench, also comprising Justices S K Kaul and K M Joseph, that “the action with respect to the seven individuals is taken in accordance with law as an administrative decision involving diplomatic and other considerations including an overwhelming consideration of national interest”.
The repatriation process began Wednesday morning, when the Rohingya men left Silchar for Moreh. “Seven individuals from Rakhine State in Myanmar had been detained in 2012 for violation of the Foreigners Act. The Chief Judicial Magistrate of Cachar at Silchar, Assam, had awarded a three-month sentence for this violation and ordered their detention pending repatriation,” the MEA’s official spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said.
“In accordance with established procedures and previous precedent, and with the assistance of the Ministry of External Affairs, the Embassy of the Union of Myanmar was able to establish the identity of these individuals as residents of that country. The Government of Myanmar issued Certificates of Identity to facilitate the travel of these individuals to their hometowns in Rakhine State. In parallel, the individuals also requested in 2016 that the Embassy of the Union of Myanmar should issue them relevant travel documents to facilitate their return to their own country,” Kumar said.
“Upon reconfirming their willingness to be repatriated (on October 3, 2018), and with the full concurrence of the Government of Myanmar, in accordance with established procedures and laws, the Government of Assam has arranged for the repatriation of these seven individuals to Myanmar,” he said.
In the petitioners’s plea, Bhushan cited media reports on Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh asking all states to identify Rohingya in their territory so that they can be deported. “…documented evidence indicate that the situation in Myanmar is extremely dangerous for the Rohingya to return and they are likely to be subjected to torture and even killed. The violence and severe prosecution that had forced the Rohingya to flee Myanmar and seek asylum in India continues till date…,” it said.
Sending them back to Myanmar would be “a grave violation of India’s international obligation to respect the customary international law principle of non-refoulement that creates an obligation on a country to not deport a person to a place where he/she may face persecution,” the plea said.
Explaining its position in an affidavit, the Centre said it had received information from Assam Police on 19 Myanmar nationals, including the seven, which was taken up with the Myanmar Embassy. “The Embassy confirmed that they were Myanmar nationals and provided them Certificate of Identity (CoI), a temporary travel document so that they can return to their country,” it said.
“The Embassy of Myanmar also requested Ministry of External Affairs for its assistance in repatriation of the aforesaid persons to Myanmar by suitable arrangements made by the Indian Government,” the affidavit said. According to official sources, the Rohingya reached Moreh town around 10.30 am on a special bus under heavy security escort. “First, all immigration formalities were completed on the Indian side and we met the Myanmarese authorities at the immigration office near no-man’s land. There, immigration formalities were done on their side.
Then, the handing-over formalities were done and photographs were clicked,” the Manipur Police officer in Moreh told The Indian Express. Last year, Union MoS for Home Kiren Rijiju had said in Parliament, citing available data, that over 14,000 Rohingya were staying in India.
(With Jimmy Leivon in Imphal)