BERLIN (AP) — The U.N.’s top refugee official urged India to ensure no one is left stateless by the exclusion of nearly 2 million people from a citizenship list in Assam state.
“Any process that could leave large numbers of people without a nationality would be an enormous blow to global efforts to eradicate statelessness,” Filippo Grandi, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees, said in a statement issued Sunday in Geneva.
He urged India to ensure no one ends up stateless, “including by ensuring adequate access to information, legal aid, and legal recourse in accordance with the highest standards of due process.”
About 31.1 million people were included on the list Assam’s government released Aug. 31, omitting 1.9 million. The list — known as the National Register of Citizens, or NRC — is unique to Assam state, in India’s far northeast bordering Bangladesh.
The government has said it compiled the list to detect and deport undocumented immigrants from Bangladesh but has also clarified that those left off the final citizenship list won’t be declared foreigners.
It’s unclear what happens next. Those left off the list can appeal to unique tribunals, but if they lose, they could be sent to detention centers being set up by the government.
IANS adds from New Delhi: The Union Home Ministry Sept. 2 said that those left out of the final National Register of Citizens in Assam will not be detained, under any circumstances, till they "exhaust" all remedies available under law.
Such people can appeal to the Foreign Tribunals within 120 days, it said, stressing that they will continue to enjoy all their rights as earlier, like any other citizens.
"The affected persons will continue to enjoy rights like right to employment, education, property etc.," Home Ministry spokesperson Vasudha Gupta said in a tweet.
In another tweet, she said: "State government has also made necessary arrangements to provide legal aid to the needy people amongst those excluded from NRC final list, by providing all assistance through the District Legal Services Authorities."
Saying that adequate judicial process is available for affected persons to appeal to the Foreigners Tribunal within 120 days from Aug. 31 this year, the ministry said that "to facilitate appeal, 200 new FTs to be functional from today (Monday), in addition to 100 already existing.”
The ones left out are mostly Bengali Hindu refugees who had come to Assam before 1971, or people who couldn't furnish the necessary documents.
In a related report, slamming the commentaries in the foreign media about the National Register of Citizens as "incorrect,” India Sept. 1 said that NRC is a "statutory, transparent, legal process" mandated by the Supreme Court and a "non-discriminatory process, which leaves no room for bias and injustice."
In a statement, the Ministry of External Affairs said the NRC application form does not ask for the religion of the applicant and it is "not an executive-driven process.”
"The process is being monitored by the Supreme Court directly and the government is acting in accordance with the directives issued by the court," the statement by MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said.
Giving the background, the statement said that the NRC stems from the Assam Accord of 1985 "with the promise to take care of the interests of the citizens of Assam."
It clarified that "exclusion from the NRC has no implication on the rights of an individual resident in Assam. Those who are not in the final list will not be detained and will continue to enjoy all the rights as before till they have exhausted all the remedies available under the law."
"It does not make the excluded person 'stateless'. It also does not make him or her a 'foreigner' within the legal meaning of the term. They will not be deprived of any rights or entitlements which they have enjoyed before," the statement said.
Meanwhile, an IANS report from Kolkata said: West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee Sept. 1 expressed shock over the exclusion of over 100,000 Gurkha community members from the final National Register of Citizens of Assam and alleged thousands of genuine Indians had been left out of the document.
In a series of tweets, Banerjee asked the government to make certain that genuine Indians were not left out of the list and ensure justice to them.
"Earlier I was not aware of the full NRC fiasco. As more and more information is coming in, we are shocked to see that names of more than 1 lakh Gorkha people have been excluded from the list," the Trinamool Congress supremo said on her social media handle.
"In fact, names of thousands of genuine Indians, including those of CRPF and other jawans, family members of former President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, have been excluded. The government must take care that genuine Indians are not left out and justice is meted out to all of our genuine Indian brothers and sisters," she said.