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Did AAP or FRRO under MHA request EWS flats for illegal Rohingyas? All your questions answered after confusion created by misleading claims

This was a simple transfer of Rohingyas from one detention centre to another for logistical reasons, but claims of minister Hardeep Singh Puri created confusion and outrage, forcing MHA to scrap the move

The issue of Rohingya Muslims living in India created a major storm yesterday after union Housing & Urban Affairs minister Hardeep Singh Puri claimed that the government has decided to settle Rohingyas living in camps in Delhi EWS flats. Calling it a landmark decision, the union minister had said that the flats meant for the Economically Weaker Section in the Bakkarwala area of Delhi will have all basic amenities, police protection and they will also be provided UNHCR IDs.

While this announcement was welcomed by left-liberals, it triggered massive outrage among the right wing on social media, the primary support base of the BJP. People were not only outraged but also confused because the comments of Hardeep Singh Puri went completely against everything the government has been saying about Rohingya Muslims. In courts, in parliament, and in press statements, the govt has been saying that Rohingyas are illegal foreigners, security threats, and they will be deported.

Amid the outrage, the union home ministry issued a statement yesterday afternoon rejecting the claims made by minister Hardeep Singh Puri. The ministry said that it has not given any directions to provide EWS flats to Rohingya illegal migrants at Bakkarwala in New Delhi. While Puri had used the words Rohingya refugees, MHA called them Rohingya illegal foreigners and said that they will be kept at the current location at Kanchan Kunj, Madanpur Khadar till their deportation. MHA also added that it has directed the Delhi govt to declare the Madanpur Khadar camp as a detention camp.

The confusion and what really happened

While the MHA statement ensured that the Rohingyas will not be shifted to govt flats built for people of the Economically Weaker Section at Bakkarwala, it didn’t end the confusion on the matter. This also led to a war of words between BJP and AAP, as the MHA statement said that the Delhi govt had proposed to shift the Rohingyas to a different location. BJP leaders also produced a letter showing that the Delhi govt has written a letter asking for the allocation of EWS flats for Rohingyas. But AAP leaders were quick to point out that that letter said the Delhi govt had received the request from an office under the union home ministry, and they were merely forwarding the request to concerned authorities. Based on this, AAP also claimed MHA had decided to shift the Rohingyas without discussion with the Delhi govt.

Also, the confusion remains that why a senior minister like Hardeep Singh Puri talked about shifting the illegal foreigners to EWS flats if there was no such proposal. While official information in this regard is limited, from what has been made available till now, it can be concluded that, in fact, there was a proposal to shift the Rohingyas from Madanpur Khadar to the Bakkarwala EWS flats. However, this was to be purely for logistical reasons, the flats were to be used as detention centres, and the Rohingyas have not been given refugee status by the govt as Puri’s tweets suggested.

Most of this can be ascertained from the letter written by the Delhi government to the News Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC) for allocation of the EWS flats to the Foreigners Regional Registration Office (FRRO) to be used as a detention centre for Rohingyas, which was used by both BJP and AAP to target each other. As FRRO is under the union home ministry, AAP leaders used this letter to target the BJP, alleging that MHA is lying that it didn’t direct shifting of the Rohingyas.

The letter, authenticity of which has not been denied by anyone, shows that FRRO had found that the detention camps used to keep Rohingya and Bangladeshi illegal immigrants in Delhi had run out of space, and they needed a bigger place. Moreover, according to the ANI report that Hardeep Singh Puri had relied on for his tweets, the Delhi govt also wanted to shift the camps because it was paying Rs 7 per month rent for the tents.

Media reports also mention that the decision to shift the Rohingyas to the EWS flats was taken in a meeting chaired by the Delhi chief secretary on July 29. Quoting minutes of the meeting, the reports say that FRRO’s Delhi office was directed to take over the EWS flats and convert them to a detention centre. FRRO was asked to work with NDMC, the Delhi govt and the Delhi police, and the process was to be completed by August 2022.

While Puri’s tweets gave the impression that the Rohingyas were being rehabilitated and they were being provided with better facilities, the Delhi govt letter to NDMC quoting FRRO, and minutes of the meetings reported by media show that it was to be a routine transfer of detainees to a bigger location for logistical reasons only. The letter also makes it clear that the foreign inmates are kept in the camps till their deportation, therefore there is no question of rehabilitating them. The EWS flats were just to be used as a detention centre and were not to be handed over to the inmates.

This was a simple transfer of inmates from one detention centre to another, a regular administrative process that regularly happens. Except in the case of high-profile inmates, the transfer of inmates from one jail or detention to another does not make news. But minister Hardeep Singh Puri’s tweets created a wrong impression about the move. He chose to present it as some sort of humanitarian move of the Modi govt, and used words that do not comply with India’s stated position on refugees, Rohingyas and illegal foreigners.

People assumed that EWS flats were being handed over to Rohingyas, and govt is settling them in India. This created confusion and eventually forced the home ministry to issue the statement that there is no plan to relocate the Rohingyas to the EWS flats.

Misleading claim on India’s stand on Rohingyas and refugees

Hardeep Singh Puri claimed that India always welcomed those who sought refuge in the country and that India respects UN Refugee Convention 1951, which is not entirely correct. While India does provide asylum to foreigners, the govt does not use the term ‘refugee’. Moreover, since their influx in 2017, the Indian govt has been saying that Rohingyas are not welcome in India and that they will be deported.

Home minister Amit Shah, MoS Home Nityanand Rai and former MoS Home Kiren Rijiju have said on record multiple times that Rohingyas are illegal immigrants, and they will not be allowed to live in India, and they will be deported. Therefore, Puri’s statement of ‘welcoming refugees’ while talking about Rohingyas went completely against the stated position of the Indian govt on the issue.

Indian govt does not use the term ‘refugee’ because the country has no specific policy for refugees. India has not signed the UN Refugee Convention, and the country has no specific law for refugees. All foreigners are dealt with as per the Foreigners Act, and accordingly, foreigners are either legal or illegal in India, there are no refugees. People who are granted asylum by the govt are issued visas and they are treated as regular legal foreigners. Hardeep Singh Puri created confusion by using the term refugee, as it suggested that the govt recognises the Rohingyas are refugees, which is incorrect.

Misleading claim on UNHCR registration

Puri made another mistake while quoting the ANI report. He had claimed that after shifting to the EWS flats, Rohingyas will be provided basic amenities, UNHCR IDs and round-the-clock Delhi Police protection. While there are no issues with the first and third matters, basic amenities are needed to be provided in jails and detention centres, and police protection will be needed to ensure that the detainees remain under detention and don’t escape, and also to ensure the protection of the detainees. But the claim that the govt will issue UNHCR IDs to the Rohingyas is incorrect.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is a United Nations agency that works to aid and protect refugees, and it provides Identity documents to those refugees who register with it. It is obvious that UNHCR is a global body under the UN and the Indian govt has no control over it, therefore, the govt of India can’t issue UNHCR ID to anyone.

Moreover, the ANI report actually says that the Rohingyas at Madanpur Khadar camp are already registered with UNHCR and they have been issued unique IDs by the agency, therefore their details are on record. This shows, minister Puri made a mistake while claiming that the Rohingyas will be issued UNHCR IDs, as they already have the IDs, and GOI can’t issue this ID.

Therefore, based on available information, it can be concluded that the FRRO office had planned to shift the Rohingyas to a new detention centre set up at the EWS flats with the coordination of Delhi govt, but minister Hardeep Singh Puri wrongly presented the move which caused massive outrage, and it forced the Union Home Ministry to scrap the move.

The available sources also show that AAP is wrong in claiming that it was not consulted in the process. The letter to NDMC asking for handing over the flats to FRRO was written by the Deputy Secretary of the Home Department of the Delhi government, and the meeting where the decision was taken was chaired by the Delhi chief secretary. When such senior officials of the Delhi govt were actively involved in the move, AAP can’t claim that the Delhi govt was not consulted.

Misleading claims by netizens

If the confusion created by the union minister was not enough, more misleading claims were made by netizens on the issue. After MHA issued the clarification, several people claimed that Minister Puri and MHA were talking about different groups of Rohingyas. Referring to the terms ‘Refugees’ and ‘Illegal Foreigners’ used by Puri and MHA respectively, it was claimed that Rohingya refugees will be given EWS flats, and illegal Rohingyas will be not.

However, this claim is completely wrong, and there no separate group of Rohingyas in India. The ANI report that Minister Puri used said that the concerned Rohingyas are living in Madanpur Khadar, and the MHA statement also refers to Rohingyas living at Madanpur Khadar. Therefore, both Hardeep Singh Puri and MHA were talking about the same group of people, only that Puri wrongly used the term refugee.

As already explained above, India does not have any law on refugees and the government does not use the term refugee in official communications. Moreover, the govt has repeatedly said that all Rohingyas in India are illegal foreigners and they will be deported. Therefore, there is no question of designating refugee status to some Rohingyas. To declare anyone as a refugee, the govt will have to bring in law on it first, as the Foreigners Act does not have any provision for that at present.

Another claim was actually made by some supporters of the govt, who were defending the move to shift the Rohingyas to the new detention camp before MHA denied it. They were claiming that Indian govt is forced to keep Rohingyas for a long time because there is a Supreme Court stay order on the deportation of Rohingyas. This is an incorrect claim, and there is no blanket stay on deportation.

However, there are some individual stay orders, as some Rohingyas marked for deportation had moved courts and they were able to obtain stay orders. However, these stay orders are specific only to the petitioners and do not apply to all Rohingyas as a whole.

Challenges to the deportation of Rohingyas

Even though there is no legal hurdle to the deportation of Rohingyas, there are several other challenges, which have forced the govt to arrange detention centres to keep illegal foreigners till they are deported. The biggest challenge is, that there is no place to deport them. Rohingyas are stateless people, even though they lived in Myanmar before fleeing the country, they don’t have citizenship of the country.

The Myanmar government does not consider them citizens and considers them Bengalis as they are immigrants from Bangladesh. Initially, Myanmar was not even ready to accept Rohingyas back. They signed an MOU with UNHCR and UNDP for the repatriation of Rohingyas, but the process has not progressed much.

The Rohingyas themselves are unwilling to return to Myanmar, alleging that they will again face violence in the country. They also allege that they were not part of the MoU, and they are not aware of the details of the agreement which have not been made public.

At present, the focus of UNHCR, UNDP and aid agencies is mainly on Bangladesh, where above one million Rohingya refugees are living in Kutupalong Refugee Camp in Cox’s Bazar. Due to overcrowding of the camp that has led to crimes and lawlessness, the Bangladesh govt has started to relocate them to Bhasan Char Island in the Bay of Bengal, where the Bangladesh govt has built hundreds of houses to settle one lakh Rohingyas. The UN agencies and international aid agencies are working together along with the Bangladesh govt to run the refugee camps.

Ayodhra Ram Mandir special coverage by OpIndia

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Raju Das
Raju Das
Corporate Dropout, Freelance Translator

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