Rohingya refugees from Myanmar in India’s capital will be given apartments and provided with police protection, says a government minister, signalling a change in stance towards members of the mainly Muslim community.
“India has always welcomed those who have sought refuge,” Minister for Housing and Urban Affairs Hardeep Singh Puri posted on Twitter on Wednesday, outlining the new provisions for Rohingya refugees in New Delhi.
“India respects and follows UN Refugee Convention 1951 and provides refuge to all, regardless of their race, religion or creed,” Puri said.
India is not a signatory to the convention, which spells out refugee rights and the obligations of countries to protect them.
Puri did not elaborate on what he said would be “round-the-clock” police protection but there have been isolated incidents of violence towards the Rohingya in India.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has previously tried to send Rohingya back to predominately Buddhist Myanmar, after hundreds of thousands of them fled from persecution and waves of violence in their homeland over the years.
Bangladesh is sheltering nearly a million Rohingya in what has turned into the world’s largest refugee camp in the country’s south.
As of early this year, about 1,100 Rohingya lived in New Delhi and another 17,000 elsewhere in India, many of them working as manual labourers, hawkers and rickshaw pullers, according to estimates from Rohingya rights activist Ali Johar.
He said some 2,000 people went back to Bangladesh this year amid fears many would be deported.
“We welcome the statement on respecting the UN refugee convention and the plan to resettle Rohingya with better housing and facilities,” said Johar, 27, who came to India a decade ago and lives with his family in rented accommodation in New Delhi.
But Johar underlined fears among the community, which has faced the ire of some Indian right-wing Hindu groups, that the new facilities could be used to corral the Rohingya.
“If it turns out to be a detention camp, that will be a nightmare for us,” he said.