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India halts deportation of 16-year-old Rohingya girl to Myanmar

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Indian authorities halted the deportation of a 16-year-old Rohingya Muslim girl to Myanmar at the last minute on Friday, saying they had not been able to contact officials caught up in the coup over the border.

Indian authorities, who say the girl is an illegal immigrant, had taken her to a northeastern border town and started processing her papers on Thursday, police said, even as rights groups pressed New Delhi to halt the process.

But they decided not to go ahead with the deportation on Friday, Mayanglambam Rajkumar, a government official in the Indian border district of Tengnoupal, told Reuters. He did not say whether the transfer had been postponed or cancelled.

“We had contacted our counterparts in Myanmar, but so far we have not received any response,” he said, blaming the breakdown in communications on the aftermath of Myanmar’s coup.

Tens of thousands of Rohingya, who are largely denied citizenship in their home country Myanmar, have lived in India for years but Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government regards them as a security threat and has been detaining them.

The girl and her family were among the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya who fled a Myanmar military-led crackdown in 2017 that U.N. investigators said was carried out with “genocidal intent” - charges Myanmar denies.

The girl’s father Mohammed Zaber, who lives in a Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh, told Reuters by phone she had left Bangladesh in 2019 and had planned to seek a better life in Malaysia before she was detained en route in India.

“I appeal to the Indian government to send my daughter to me in Bangladesh,” Zaber told Reuters by phone.

Indian police official B.L. Meena said the girl would now probably go back to the non-profit group that had been looking after her in the border state of Assam.

An Indian foreign ministry spokesperson said he had no comment on the case, and a home ministry spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, opposed the deportation, saying on Thursday: “The situation in Myanmar is not yet conducive for voluntary return in a safe, secure, and sustainable manner.”

India is not a signatory to the U.N. Refugee Convention and rejects a U.N. position that deporting the Rohingya violates the principle of refoulement – sending refugees back to a place where they face danger.

Reporting by Zeba Siddiqui in NEW DELHI, Zarir Hussain in GUWAHATI, and Ruma Paul in DHAKA; Editing by Andrew Heavens

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