NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India’s top court has agreed to hear a plea challenging a government decision to deport all of an estimated 40,000 Rohingya Muslims living in the country after fleeing persecution in Myanmar, a lawyer involved in the case said on Friday.
A petition was filed on behalf of two Rohingya men who live in Delhi after fleeing their village in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, where the latest surge of violence has killed at least 400 people and sent about 40,000 Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government said last month it was going to expel all Rohingya, even those registered with the U.N. refugee agency, drawing criticism from aid groups and some politicians.
“The Supreme Court realizes the urgency of it, that’s why they have agreed to hear it on Monday,” lawyer Prashant Bhushan told Reuters.
“You can’t send somebody away to face certain death in another country, that would be a violation of his Article 21 rights.”
Bhushan said the Indian constitution’s Article 21, on the protection of life and personal liberty, applied to non-citizens.
Deportation would also contradict the principle of non-refoulement – or not sending back refugees to a place where they face danger, he said.
Home Ministry spokesman K.S. Dhatwalia declined to comment, saying the government would present its case to the court.
Mohammad Salimullah, the first petitioner, came to India in 2012 via the eastern state of West Bengal, on the border with Bangladesh, according to the petition seen by Reuters.
The second petitioner, Mohammad Shaqir, arrived in 2011.
Both said in the petitions that their lives would be in danger if they were sent back to Myanmar, where clashes broke out last Friday after Rohingya insurgents wielding sticks, knives and crude bombs attacked police posts and an army base.
The Rohingya are denied citizenship in Buddhist-majority Myanmar and regarded as illegal immigrants, despite claiming roots that date back centuries.
Bangladesh is also growing hostile to Rohingya, more than 400,000 of whom live there after fleeing Myanmar since the early 1990s.
From Bangladesh, many Rohingya have crossed a porous border into Hindu-majority India, where they are starting to get vilified by some right-wing groups.
“We should not be targeted just because we are Muslims,” Rohingya Ali Johar, who came to India in 2012 and lives with his family in a Delhi settlement, said by phone.
“We’ve already faced persecution in Myanmar. India should not do anything that will show them as racist.”
Myanmar denies persecuting the Rohingya. It says its security forces are tackling “terrorists” who have launched attacks in Rakhine State.
Reporting by Krishna N. Das; Editing by Robert Birsel