India on Thursday deported seven Rohingya men to Myanmar, despite U.N. warnings that they faced persecution in a country where the army is accused of genocide against the Muslim minority.
The men, who had been in detention for immigration offenses since 2012, were handed over to Myanmar authorities at a border crossing in India’s northeast state of Manipur.
“Seven Myanmarese nationals have been reported today. They were handed over to the authorities of Myanmar at Moreh border post,” senior Assam police officer Bhaskar Jyoti Mahanta said.
A U.N. special rapporteur had warned India risked breaking international laws on refoulement – the return of refugees or asylum seekers to a country where they could be harmed.
The Rohingya are despised by many in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, which refuses to recognize them as citizens and falsely labels them “Bengali” illegal immigrants.
They were concentrated in Rakhine state, the epicenter of a Myanmar army offensive that over the past year has driven 700,000 Rohingya Muslims into Bangladesh. Widespread atrocities associated with the offensive have been documented by international aid organizations.
The U.N. had voiced concern that Indian officials ignored the danger the men faced in Myanmar, where for decades the Rohingya have been targeted in violent pogroms by security forces.
Legal efforts to stymie their deportation failed when the Supreme Court on Thursday rejected a petition on their behalf and upheld their status as illegal immigrants.
“Even the country of their origin has accepted them as its citizens,” a three-judge bench said.
Myanmar’s army has denied nearly all wrongdoing, insisting their campaign was justified to root out Rohingya insurgents.
But a U.N. fact-finding mission said there was enough evidence to merit prosecution of several top Myanmar military commanders for crimes against humanity and genocide against Rohingya civilians.
India considers the Rohingya a security threat, pointing to intelligence which it says links the minority group to extremist organizations.
The government ordered last year that all Rohingya inside India – New Delhi puts the figure at 40,000 – be deported. The U.N. says there are 16,000 registered Rohingya in India.
The Supreme Court is considering a petition challenging the order as unconstitutional.