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The Supreme Court today agreed to hear in March a plea seeking direction to the government to release Rohingya refugees who have been “illegally and arbitrarily” detained in jails and detention centres across the country.

A bench of Justice BR Gavai and Justice Sandeep Mehta agreed to list the plea after advocate Prashant Bhushan mentioned the matter, saying the case has not been posted for hearing.

Mr Bhushan submitted that despite the issuance of notice to the Centre, the Union of India has not filed its reply till date. He told the top court that the matter needs an urgent hearing as many Rohingya refugees have been languishing in different parts of the country.

The top court said it will post the matter in March.

The top court on October 10 last year issued notice to the Centre and sought its response within four weeks.

Mr Bhushan, appearing for petitioner Priyali Sur, had submitted that many Rohingya refugees have been detained in facilities across the country and sought their release to protect their right to life and equality before the law under Article 21 and Article 14 of the Constitution.

Ms Sur’s plea said the Rohingyas are an ethnic minority from the Rakhine state in Myanmar and they have been described by the United Nations as the world’s most persecuted ethnic minority.

“They have a history of statelessness since 1980, primarily as a consequence of the 1982 Citizenship Law enacted in Mynamar, which effectively stripped them of their citizenship,” it said.

The plea said that Rohingya refugees have fled to neighbouring countries, including India, to escape persecution that has been dubbed by the United Nations and the International Court of Justice as genocide and crime against humanity.

It said despite this background of persecution and discrimination, Rohingya refugees in India are officially labelled as “illegal immigrants” and face inhumane treatment and restrictions.

“These include arbitrary arrests and unlawful detentions, limits on freedom of movement outside camps, limited access to education, limited or no access to basic healthcare and legal services or any formal employment opportunities,” the plea said.

Hundreds of Rohingya refugees, including pregnant women and minors, have been detained unlawfully and indefinitely in jails and detention centres across India, despite the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) recognising their status as refugees, it added.

The plea sought direction to the Centre to release the Rohingyas who have been detained “illegally and arbitrarily” in jails and detention centres or juvenile homes, either without assigning a reason or for violation of the provisions of the Foreigners Act.It also sought direction to the government to refrain from arbitrarily detaining any Rohingya, accusing them of being illegal immigrants or under the Foreigners Act.