The Indian government estimate puts the number of Rohingya Muslims in India at more than 40,000. AFP
The focus is back on Rohingya refugees in India. On Wednesday, Union minister Hardeep Singh Puri tweeted that all Rohingya migrants from Myanmar living in a camp in Delhi will be shifted to flats reserved for the Economically Weaker Section (EWS). However, soon after the government contradicted his statement, saying no such benefits have been announced.
This has now snowballed into a political controversy between the Centre and the Delhi government. We take a look at the uproar and who is saying what.
Who are the Rohingyas?
The Rohingya Muslims are one of Myanmar’s many ethnic minorities described by United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres as “one of, if not the, most discriminated people in the world”, according to a BBC report.
They have been persecuted for decades. A deadly crackdown by the Myanmar army on Rohingyas in August 2017 forced more than seven lakh people – about half of them children – to flee the country and cross over to neighbouring Bangladesh.
Rohingyas have sought refuge in India, Thailand, Indonesia, Nepal and other neighbouring countries in the region.
How many Rohingyas are in India?
There are about 16,000 Rohingya refugees in India, according to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). The Indian government estimate puts the number at more than 40,000 with most living in and around Jammu, according to a report in The Hindustan Times.
Last year, the Centre told the Rajya Sabha that “illegal Rohingya immigrants” are staying in 12 states and Union Territories – Jammu and Kashmir, Telangana, Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Assam, Karnataka and Kerala.
In early 2022, around 1,100 Rohingya lived in Delhi and another 17,000 elsewhere in India, working mainly as manual labourers, hawkers and rickshaw pullers, Rohingya rights activist Ali Johar told news agency Reuters.
What is the latest row?
On Wednesday, Puri announced a “landmark decision” to provide homes and security for Rohingya refugees in Myanmar.
“India has always welcomed those who have sought refuge in the country. In a landmark decision all #Rohingya #Refugees will be shifted to EWS flats in Bakkarwala area of Delhi. They will be provided basic amenities, UNHCR IDs & round-the-clock @DelhiPolice protection,” he tweeted.
“Those who made a career out of spreading canards on India’s refugee policy deliberately linking it to #CAA (CItizenship Amendment Act) will be disappointed. India respects & follows @UN Refugee Convention 1951 & provides refuge to all, regardless of their race, religion or creed,” he wrote in a follow-up tweet.
The tweets have now been deleted.
How did the government react?
The government, however, contracted the statement of its minister. A former diplomat, Hardeep Puri is the minister for housing, urban affairs and petroleum and natural gas.
After Puri’s tweets, the Union home ministry, which is headed by Amit Shah, put out a statement on its official Twitter account.
“With respect to news reports in certain sections of media regarding Rohingya illegal foreigners, it is clarified that Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has not given any directions to provide EWS flats to Rohingya illegal migrants at Bakkarwala in New Delhi,” the ministry said on Twitter.
With respect to news reports in certain sections of media regarding Rohingya illegal foreigners, it is clarified that Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has not given any directions to provide EWS flats to Rohingya illegal migrants at Bakkarwala in New Delhi.
— गृहमंत्री कार्यालय, HMO India (@HMOIndia) August 17, 2022
According to the home ministry, the Delhi government had proposed shifting Rohingyas to a new location but reiterated that the “Rohingya illegal foreigners” will continue staying where they were. It has also taken up the matter of their deportation “with concerned country through MEA”.
“Illegal foreigners are to be kept in Detention Centre till their deportation as per law. The Government of Delhi has not declared the present location as a Detention Centre. They have been directed to do the same immediately,” it said,
Most Rohingyas live in makeshift tents in the Capital.
What is the Delhi government saying?
The settlement of Rohingya Muslims has been a contentious issue for the BJP and AAP. Now the two have once again started a blame game.
Soon after Puri’s tweet, the Aam Aadmi Party lashed out at the Centre. AAP MLA Saurabh Bharadwaj said his party will not allow Rohingya migrants to settle in the national capital as they would become a threat to Delhiites in the future.
Further, taking a jibe at the Centre, Bhardwaj told the Centre to settle the Rohingyas in BJP-ruled states instead. This was before the statement from the Union ministry, which said that the fault lies with the Delhi government.
Why are the BJP and AAP at loggerheads?
The Centre then released a letter from 2021, claiming that it was the AAP government that wanted houses for the immigrant population, reports TimesNow. It had reportedly written to North Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC) and sought that Rohingya refugees be shifted to a new location in the national capital.
The Delhi BJP on Thursday continued to attack the Kejriwal government claiming its officials wrote letter after letter requesting that the “infiltrators” be provided EWS flats. The Kejriwal government has not provided even proper electricity connection to the Pakistani Hindu refugees living in a camp here, but it ensured proper accommodation, food and all other facilities for Rohingyas, claimed Delhi BJP president Adesh Gupta.
The Centre wants to deport the refugees back to Myanmar. AFP
On Thursday, Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia wrote a letter to Amit Shah and said some officials of the central and Delhi government “had hatched a conspiracy” and taken a decision on the issue without consultation.
He clarified that the Delhi government was against the move, adding that it had not been kept in the loop. “Delhi Home Minister and the Chief Minister were kept in the dark. I came to know about this from newspapers. I found out that there were some meetings and some decisions were taken,” Sisodia said in his letter, reports News18.
Earlier on Wednesday, Sisodia had said the Centre was “secretly” trying to give “permanent residence” to the refugees, rejecting the Union home ministry’s claim that it was the Delhi government’s proposal.
What has been India’s position in the past?
The Narendra Modi-led government has previously tried to repatriate the Rohingyas. Last year, the Supreme Court rejected a plea to stop the government from deporting to Myanmar some 150 Rohingya Muslims who were detained by the police.
Many Rohingyas in India carry identity cards issued by the UNHCR recognising them as refugees, but New Delhi is not a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention.
India also rejects a UN position that deporting the Rohingya violates the principle of refoulement, a forcible return of refugees to a country where they face danger, reports The Hindustan Times.
With inputs from agencies