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Confusion, clarification amid row on Rohingya

ByRisha Chitlangia, , New Delhi
Aug 18, 2022 05:33 AM IST

The Union home ministry contradicted a tweet by Union urban development minister Hardeep Singh Puri who eventually backtracked after having first termed the plan to move the migrants to better facilities a 'landmark decision'.

The Union home ministry on Wednesday said it has not issued directions to shift Rohingya refugees to flats in an outer Delhi locality, contradicting Union urban development minister Hardeep Singh Puri who eventually backtracked after having first termed the plan to move the migrants to better facilities a “landmark decision” .

New Delhi: 37-year-old Tasleema poses for photographs at the Rohinya refugee settlement area in Kalindi Kunj, New Delhi, Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022. The MHA made it clear that it has not given any direction to provide EWS flats to Rohingya Muslims in Delhi. (PTI)
New Delhi: 37-year-old Tasleema poses for photographs at the Rohinya refugee settlement area in Kalindi Kunj, New Delhi, Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022. The MHA made it clear that it has not given any direction to provide EWS flats to Rohingya Muslims in Delhi. (PTI)

The minister’s morning tweet — he referred to a story by news agency ANI that said 1,100 refugees would be resettled in the flats from their accommodation in tents — immediately triggered a political controversy with the Delhi government hitting out at the Centre, saying it was not consulted and the move would mean a “security risk” from illegal migrants.

Shortly after Puri’s tweet, the ministry of home affairs (MHA) said in a statement: “With respect to news reports in certain sections of media regarding Rohingya illegal foreigners, it is clarified that the MHA has not given any directions to provide EWS (economically weaker section) flats to Rohingya illegal migrants at Bakkarwala in New Delhi.”

Puri, who first tweeted in the morning, said in a tweet later in the evening: “Home ministry’s press release with respect to the issue of Rohingya illegal foreigners gives out the correct position.”

Also Read | ‘Correct position’: Hardeep Puri after MHA rebuttal on Centre’s Rohingya plan

In the morning post, the urban development and housing minister said: “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 Delhi Police protection.”

In a second tweet, he added: “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 and provides refuge to all, regardless of their race, religion or creed.”

The controversy stems from what seemed to be at least an attempt to resettle some of the refugees temporarily. According to the minutes of a meeting chaired by chief secretary Naresh Kumar on July 29, a decision was taken by the home department to shift the refugees to a tenement for poor families in Bakkarwala area in outer Delhi. HT has seen a copy of the minutes.

“FRRO, Delhi was directed to take over the EWS Flats at Bakkarwala, Delhi for the purpose of creation of detention center and complete the procedure and other codal formalities immediately after handing and taking over of EWS flats at Bakkarwala, Delhi from NDMC in coordination with the Delhi Police and Home Department, GNCT of Delhi for setting up detention center. This process shall be completed by August 2022,” read the document, a copy of which was seen by HT.

Also Read | Who are Rohingya? ‘Illegal foreigners’ crisis in India

It also talked about consultations with the MHA on the matter. “Simultaneously, FRRO, Delhi Police in consultation with MHA to take necessary action to detain these unauthorisedly staying immigrants in detention centre… It was also directed that a detailed self contained note may be put-up to bring the issue in to the notice of LG, GNCT of Delhi by the Home Department.”

The MHA appeared to scrap the move on Wednesday. “Illegal foreigners are to be kept in the 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,” the ministry statement said.

Also Read | Delhi govt told to declare Rohingya settlement site ‘detention centre’: MHA

The Aam Aadmi Party said the elected government was not involved in the decision and directed blame at Lieutenant Governor Vinai Kumar Saxena and the chief secretary. “The chief secretary held a meeting on the issue with the Delhi Police and in a written note, instructions were issued that the file of the home ministry should directly go to the LG after the chief secretary. They bypassed the state home minister Manish Sisodia in the process,” said Saurabh Bhardwaj, AAP spokesperson.

The minutes of the meeting cited above do not make a mention of any of the ministers, including Sisodia.

Sisodia too commented on the issue on Wednesday, posting a tweet that said: “On the central government and LG’s directions, officers and Delhi Police have taken the decision without consulting chief minister and Delhi home minister. The Delhi government will not allow this conspiracy to illegally settle Rohingyas in Delhi.”

Also Read | ‘Send them back’: VHP calls Centre's proposal to resettle Rohingyas deplorable

According to an MHA estimate, around 40,000 Rohingya community refugees, who are followers of Islam, are living in various parts of India after having fled what has been described as ethnic cleansing in Myanmar. Their refuge has been a hotly debated political topic and had become a bone of contention between the AAP and the BJP in the run-up to the Delhi assembly polls in 2020.

The BJP sought to blame the AAP-led Delhi government of being behind the decision. National BJP spokesperson Gaurav Bhatia said the meeting regarding shifting of the refugees was chaired by Delhi chief secretary Naresh Kumar on July 29.

Bhatia said, “Rohingya infiltrators are a threat to India’s security. But Arvind Kejriwal is doing the politics of appeasement keeping the national security at bay… why was it that in the meeting held on 29th July, which was presided over by the Chief Secretary of Delhi, a hasty decision was taken that all these infiltrators would be shifted to the houses being built for EWS?”

Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, who has represented the Rohingya refugees challenging plans to deport them, said that India is not a signatory to international conventions on refugees, but that it doesn’t really matter. “It is irrelevant if India signs or doesn’t sign because under Article 21 of the Constitution, international rights such as the right not to be returned is part of Indian Constitution under Article 21.”

There was no response on the matter from the external affairs ministry.

Gonsalves’s references was to the core principle of the Refugee Convention on “non-refoulement”, which states that refugees should not be returned to a country where they face serious threats to their life or freedom.

People in the government familiar with the matter too said India is not among the 149 countries that are signatories to either or both the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, which outline the rights of refugees and the legal obligations of states to protect them.

The people cited above further said that the issue of Rohingya refugees is not related to the universal periodic review (UPR) of India’s human rights record that is to be conducted by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council (HRC) in November. They said that the issue of Rohingya refugees had not even featured in preparations already underway for this review.

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