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SC to hear on March 25 plea to stop deportation of Rohingya refugees

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The Supreme Court on Thursday agreed to hear on March 25 a plea seeking release and protection of over 150 Rohingya refugees, who have been sent to a holding centre in Jammu as part of the Jammu & Kashmir administration’s process to identify undocumented immigrants in the Union Territory. The administration has said it will work on their deportation next to Myanmar.

A bench headed by Chief Justice of India SA Bobde asked solicitor general Tushar Mehta to come with a response to the plea next week.

The Jammu & Kashmir administration began the process of identifying undocumented immigrants on March 6. Over 150 of them were sent to the holding centre under the Foreigners Act. Officials insisted due process of law was followed and added the immigrants sent to the centre did not carry any valid travel documents.

Hundreds of thousands of Muslim Rohingya have since 2017 fled Myanmar to escape persecution and many of them have been staying in the Union Territory. The UN has called a Myanmar army’s campaign against the Rohingya “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.

Advocate Prashant Bhushan requested an urgent hearing of the plea on behalf of a Rohingya, Mohammad Salimullah. Bhushan said an urgent intervention was required since those “detained” in Jammu could be deported anytime to Myanmar, where they fled from fearing persecution.

“There is a military government in Myanmar now. Their life is under threat,” said Bhushan, referring to the latest military coup in Myanmar in February.

Mehta said Bhushan’s submissions were factually incorrect and added the government would respond on March 24.

Salimullah has, in his plea, cited news reports of “detention” of around 150 refugees in a “temporary jail” for their deportation.

“This follows the Union Minister Jitendra Singh’s statements two months ago that the Rohingya (identified as Muslim refugees by the government) would not be able to secure citizenship. These refugees have been illegally detained and jailed in the Jammu sub-jail, which has been converted into a holding centre with the IGP (inspector general of police, Jammu) Mukesh Singh stating that they face deportation back to Myanmar following verification by their embassy,” he said in his plea.

The plea has urged the court to order the release of the Rohingya refugees immediately and direct the government to expeditiously grant refugee identification cards to them.

It cited records from the deputy commissioner’s office and added it showed 6,523 Rohingyas were living in Jammu. The plea requested the court to stop the Centre from implementing any orders on deporting the refugees. It added the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees should be asked to “intervene and determine the protection needs of the Rohingya refugees not just in the Jammu but also in camps across the country and complete the process of granting them refugee cards”.

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