KOLKATA: In its affidavit to the Supreme Court on the question of deportation of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar, the Union government took the plea that as India is not a signatory to the Refugee Convention of 1951 or the Protocol of 1967, it is not bound by the principle of 'non-refoulement' or not sending back refugees to a place where they face danger.
However, this does not wash with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The rights body says New Delhi is bound by international law to protect refugees who face danger in their home country.
In an e-mail reply to the New Indian Express, the UNHCR's India headquarters in New Delhi said: "The principle of non-refoulement is considered part of customary international law and therefore binding on all states whether they have signed the Refugee Convention or not. In addition, India is party to major international human rights instruments such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and Convention on the Rights of the Child."
The affidavit submitted to the Supreme Court stated that there are some 43,000 Rohingya refugees in India currently. But UNHCR says only 16,500 are registered with it. The UNHCR issues ID cards to registered refugees and documents to asylum-seekers, which helps prevent arbitrary arrests, detention and deportation.
The government also issues long-term visas to such refugees, which eases their access to public services, bank accounts and employment in the private sector. In principle, all refugees in India have access to government health and education services but sometimes they have difficulties in accessing these facilities.
However, New Delhi has not communicated to UNHCR its new attitude towards the Rohingya. The human rights body said that while there have been no reported instances of deportations of UNHCR-registered Rohingyas from India, some refugees have reported instances of harassment.