Explained | What is India’s policy on the Rohingya? 

Can refugees who feel threatened in their home nation be deported? What are the government’s obligations?  

Updated - February 13, 2023 06:13 pm IST

Published - August 21, 2022 02:17 am IST

Children at the Rohingya settlement Colony at Madanpur Khadar, in New Delhi, on August 17. 2022.

Children at the Rohingya settlement Colony at Madanpur Khadar, in New Delhi, on August 17. 2022. | Photo Credit: R.V. Moorthy

The story so far: On August 17, Union Housing Minister Hardeep Singh Puri tweeted that Rohingya refugees would be shifted to flats meant for economically weaker sections (EWS), and provided with basic amenities and police protection. The Minister said “India respects & follows the UN Refugee Convention 1951 & provides refuge to all, regardless of their race, religion or creed.” The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) under Amit Shah issued a clarification saying that no such direction had been given to provide EWS flats to “Rohingya illegal foreigners”.

Where do the Rohingya live in Delhi?

The Rohingya live in hutments in the densely populated Kalindi Kunj and Madanpur Khadar areas in Delhi which are contiguous with Uttar Pradesh. Officially, about 1,200 Rohingya have been identified as among the first batch to have arrived in Delhi in 2012. After they protested outside the UNHCR (UN Refugee Agency) office in Delhi, they were provided with refugee cards.

A woman sitting outside her makeshift house at the Rohingya settlement Colony at Madanpur Khadar, in New Delhi, on August 17, 2022.

A woman sitting outside her makeshift house at the Rohingya settlement Colony at Madanpur Khadar, in New Delhi, on August 17, 2022. | Photo Credit: R.V. Moorthy

What happened in June last year?

On June 13, 2021 a fire ravaged one of the Rohingya camps at Kanchan Kunj near Kalindi Kunj metro station in south Delhi. The land belonged to the irrigation department of the Uttar Pradesh government. A day before the fire broke out in the hutment, the Rohingya had been served notice by the U.P. irrigation department to vacate the premises. After the incident, the Sub Divisional Magistrate, Sarita Vihar, and Delhi Police made arrangements to move the displaced Rohingya to an empty plot nearby that belonged to the Zakat Foundation of India, an NGO. The Delhi government pitched tents and provided water and electricity. A mobile toilet was also set up. As the Delhi government was incurring an expenditure of ₹7 lakh per month, it was decided at a meeting held by the Delhi chief secretary on July 29 this year, to shift all Rohingya families to EWS flats which were to be designated as a detention centre and would be put under constant police watch. Residents at the camps said that currently the police do a daily roll call but they are free to move anywhere. A police post has been set up near their camp.

How is the Delhi government involved?

The Foreigners Regional Registration Office (FRRO), responsible for tracking foreigners and their visas, has been requesting space at a new location for the Rohingya from the Delhi government since 2021. The FRRO is under the administrative control of the MHA. On March 19, 2021, FRRO, Delhi, wrote a letter to the Delhi government’s home department seeking another location to house the Rohingya. The home department sent a letter to another civic authority, the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC), on June 23 the same year that the FRRO is constrained to restrict the movement of illegal foreigners and immigrants due to acute paucity of space. The department requested the NDMC chairman to allot a Baraat Ghar along with EWS flats at Bakkarwala village to accommodate the foreign inmates with “basic minimum housing facilities.” Earlier, in February 2021, a joint team of the social welfare department and home department of the Delhi government had zeroed in on the EWS flats to designate it as a restriction centre. On July 29, 2022 Delhi chief secretary Naresh Kumar held a meeting to find a “medium to long-term” residential solution for Rohingya refugee families. The minutes say that the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi was apprised of the plan. Since Delhi is a Union Territory, law and order is under the Central government, in this case, the MHA. The AAP has claimed that the elected Ministers of Delhi government were kept out of the loop.

When did the Rohingya come here?

Rohingya, an ethnic group, mostly Muslim, hail from the Rakhine province of west Myanmar, and speak a Bengali dialect. Myanmar has classified them as “resident foreigners” or “associate citizens,”

A woman buys vegetable from a small vendor inside the Rohingya settlement Colony at Madanpur Khadar, in New Delhi, on August 17. 2022.

A woman buys vegetable from a small vendor inside the Rohingya settlement Colony at Madanpur Khadar, in New Delhi, on August 17. 2022. | Photo Credit: R.V. Moorthy

They were forced to leave Myanmar in large numbers after several waves of violence, which first began in 2012. The Myanmar army revived the attacks in 2017 and lakhs took shelter in Bangladesh. Around five lakh Rohingya fled to Saudi Arabia in 2012. According to the July 29 minutes of the meeting, the Rohingya first came to Delhi in 2012.

Editorial | Too good to be true: On accommodating the Rohingya

What is the process of deportation?

According to the MHA, illegal immigrants are detected, detained and deported under provisions of the Passport Act, 1920 or the Foreigners Act, 1946. The powers to identify and deport them have also been delegated to State governments and Union Territories. Once a ‘foreigner’ has been apprehended by the police for staying illegally, without any document, he or she is produced before the local court. If the accused is found guilty, they can be imprisoned for three months to eight years. After completing their sentence, the court orders deportation. The foreign inmates are moved to detention centres till the country of origin verifies and accepts them.

Though there are no separate rules for deportation of the Rohingya, on August 8, 2017, amid fears of fresh exodus of Rohingya from Myanmar, the MHA wrote to all the States that “infiltration from Rakhine State of Myanmar into Indian territory specially in the recent years, besides being [a] burden on the limited resources of the country also aggravates the security challenges posed to the country.” It also said the rise in terrorism in the last few decades is a cause for concern in most nations and that illegal migrants are more vulnerable to getting recruited by terrorist organisations.

Have any Rohingya been deported?

In 2018, seven Rohingya were deported to Myanmar. It was the first time that Myanmar issued a certificate of identity to the seven Rohingya. They had been picked up in Assam in 2012. After they were moved to a detention centre from prison, they wrote to the Myanmar Embassy in 2016, expressing their desire to return to their country and gave an undertaking that they were returning out of their free will. According to advocacy group Human Rights Watch (HRW), since October 2018, India has deported 12 Rohingya to Myanmar, “claiming that they left voluntarily.” “However, the government denied repeated requests by UNHCR to gain access to them to independently assess whether the decision was voluntary,” HRW said.

In December 2017, the then Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju informed Parliament that there are around 40,000 Rohingya in India, of which around 5,700 are in Jammu and also in Telangana, Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi and Rajasthan. Of these, only 16,000 are said to be registered with the UN refugee agency. The MHA claimed that the exact number is not known as many of them enter the country clandestinely. In 2017, the Border Security Force apprehended 87 Rohingya along the Bangladesh border and 76 were pushed back to Bangladesh.

What is India’s stand on refugees?

India is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol. All foreign undocumented nationals are governed as per the provisions of The Foreigners Act, 1946, The Registration of Foreigners Act, 1939, The Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920 and The Citizenship Act, 1955.

The MHA informed Parliament on April 5 that “foreign nationals who enter into the country without valid travel documents are treated as illegal immigrants.” In 2016, Mr. Rijiju told the Lok Sabha that “there is no national law on refugees at present. Only Standard Operating Procedures are issued by the MHA to deal with foreign nationals in India, who claim to be refugees.”

In some instances, such as in the case of Pakistani Hindus who live in camps in Delhi, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Chattisgarh, Punjab, and Tibetans and Tamils from Sri Lanka, relief assistance is provided by the Centre that includes monthly cash dole, subsidised ration, clothing materials, utensils, cremation and shradh (last rites) grants and infrastructure facilities in camps. As on December 31, 2014, the number of stateless persons in India was 2,89,394 which included over 10,000 Bangladeshis and 10,000 Sri Lankans.

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