New Delhi : All of an estimated 40,000 Rohingya Muslims living in India are illegal immigrants, even those registered with the UN refugee agency, and the government aims to deport them, a senior official said on Monday.

Junior Home Minister minister Kiren Rijiju told Parliament last week the central government had directed state authorities to identify and deport illegal immigrants, including Rohingya, who face persecution in Buddhist-majority Myanmar.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has issued identity cards to about 16,500 Rohingyas in India that it says help them “prevent harassment, arbitrary arrests, detention and deportation”.

But Rijiju said in an interview that the UNHCR registration was irrelevant. “They are doing it, we can’t stop them from registering. But we are not signatory to the accord on refugees,” he said, adding, “As far as we are concerned they are all illegal immigrants They have no basis to live here. Anybody who is illegal migrant will be deported.”

The UNHCR’s India office said on Monday the principle of non-refoulement —- or not sending back refugees to a place where they face danger —- was considered part of customary international law and binding on all states whether they have signed the Refugee Convention or not. The office said it had not received any official word about a plan to deport Rohingya refugees, and had not got any reports that deportations were taking place.

The treatment of the roughly one million Rohingyas in Myanmar has emerged as its most contentious human rights issue as it makes a transition from decades of harsh military rule. The Rohingyas are denied citizenship in Myanmar and classified as illegal immigrants, despite claiming roots there that go back centuries, with communities marginalized and occasionally subjected to communal violence.

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas have fled from Myanmar, with many taking refuge in Bangladesh, and some crossing a porous border into India.

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