The Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to examine in August if undocumented Rohingya immigrants can be granted refugee status, Live Law reported.

A bench comprising Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and Justices Deepak Gupta and Aniruddha Bose heard petitions filed by two Rohingya men against the Centre’s proposed plan to deport 40,000 members of their community to Myanmar.

The court asked the government’s counsel and the petitioners’ lawyer to file the gist of their arguments, supporting literature, articles and viewpoints by August.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta urged the court to let international laws regarding community rights govern the matter. “The main question is whether illegal immigrants can claim refugee status; how they are being dealt with internationally is the main issue,” he said. “Everything else is peripheral...”

Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, arguing for the Rohingya men, said the United Nations Human Rights Council had conducted an intensive interrogation of where the Rohingya immigrants were coming from and if they were genuinely escaping persecution. “There is a detailed inquiry pursuant to which the refugee status is issued...60-70% of the Rohingya in India already have the refugee cards. The remaining are pending determination...,” Gonsalves added.

“For economic migrants, there are guidelines... economic migrants are not supposed to stay in the country...but several countries, for example Australia, have extended protection to migrants.,” he added. “They don’t ask them to go back.”

The petitioners claimed their deportation would violate India’s commitment to international principle of Non-Refoulement. This principle of customary international law prohibits the deportation of refugees to a country where their lives are under threat. The petitioners said there were substantial grounds to believe that Rohingyas would be at risk of irreparable harm upon return to Myanmar, including persecution, torture, ill-treatment and other serious human rights violations.

The Rohingya crisis

More than seven lakh Rohingya Muslims fled to neighbouring Bangladesh after the Myanmar Army started a crackdown in Rakhine state in August 2017 in response to attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, an insurgent group, on police posts and a military base.

The Rohingya, who fled to India are settled in Jammu, Hyderabad, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi-National Capital Region and Rajasthan.

However, since May 2018, at least 2,000 of them have reportedly left for Bangladesh. Rohingya refugees face open hostility in India, from both the society and the state. In October, India sent back seven Rohingya refugees to Myanmar despite opposition from human rights organisations. Five more were deported on January 4. None of them were granted citizenship rights in Myanmar even though the Centre had assured the Supreme Court their rights would be recognised.