Guterres backs UN refugee agency on concern over Rohingya repatriation

Antonio Guterres
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, File Photo

United Nations, Oct 5 (IANS) Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stands behind the UN refugee agency (UNRA)’s expression of concern over India repatriating seven Rohingyas to Myanmar, his spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said on Friday.

After reading out an abbreviated version of a statement issued earlier in Geneva by the UNRA, he said at his daily briefing in answer to a question that Guterres stands behind the agency, which is the UN body dealing with refugees.

“The UN refugee agency is greatly concerned for the safety and security of seven Myanmar nationals who were returned from India to Myanmar on Thursday,” its spokesperson Andrej Mahecic said in Geneva.

The office of UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Filippo Grandi requested Indian authorities for access to the seven Rohingyas detained in India since 2012, he said.

UNHCR “regrets that the agency did not receive a response to this request and was unable to secure access for a lawyer from a state legal service.”

“UNHCR continues to seek clarification from the authorities on the circumstances under which these individuals were returned to Myanmar,” he added.

The Supreme Court had earlier turned down an appeal by a prominent lawyer, Prashant Bhushan, to stop the deportation.

India’s External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said that the government had reconfirmed the seven Rohingyas’ “willingness to be repatriated” before arranging their return.

Meenakshi Ganguly, the South Asia director of Human Rights Watch (HRW), said in a statement: “Forcing any Rohingya back to Myanmar now puts them at grave risk of oppression and abuse.”

“The Indian government has disregarded its long tradition of protecting those seeking refuge within its borders,” she added.

According to HRW, 32 Rohingya refugees, including seven minors, are in detention in Assam.

“They are mostly believed to be from the Rakhine state in Myanmar and were apprehended in 2014 by the railway police,” it said.

The seven, who were deported on Thursday, had come to India before the outbreak of violence in August last year in Rakhine state that led to more that 700,000 Rohingyas fleeing to Bangladesh, where they now live in squalid camps.

Attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, an organisation led by Pakistan-born Ataullah abu Ammar Jununi, on Myanmarese security posts sparked retaliatory attacks by security forces and civilian vigilantes.

Several thousands of Rohingyas were killed in the attacks and their villages destroyed leading to the exodus.

Guterres has called it a “textbook case of ethnic cleansing” and demanded punishment for those responsible.

(Arul Louis can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @arulouis)

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