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  • Villagers outside the NRC center in Morigaon district to get their documents verified by officials

    Villagers outside the NRC center in Morigaon district to get their documents verified by officials | Photo: Reuters

Published 30 August 2019
Opinion

The moves comes as racism is growing in India against people from Bangladesh who have migrated in search of a better life in India.

Millions of people are waiting in northeast of India with fear of being declared stateless as authorities were set to publish a citizenship list on Saturday that aims to identify as "illegal", undocumented immigrants who have settled in the region over the past several decades.

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The preparation of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam began in 2015 to determine “legitimate” inhabitants of the region and identify those who have migrated to the state mired for decades in an ethnic conflict.

A draft list was published in July last year, in which over four million out of 32 million residents surveyed in the Indian state were excluded from the citizenship.

Supporters of the racist measure claim that their culture was threatened by the immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh who have entered Assam, especially during the country's war of independence in 1971. Assam is located within India, wedged between Butan to its north and Bangladesh in the south.

Authorities said those who are not included in the list will not be automatically considered foreigners, and that some 100 special courts would have the final say in determining their citizenship status.

All Assam Students' Union (AASU), which led the movement against immigrants that culminated in an agreement signed with the Indian government in 1985 to set up the NRC and expel those arriving in the state after 1971, confirmed they would be deported.

"When the list of foreigners will be finalized, they should be deported, because the intensity of immigration in Assam is very huge," General Secretary Lurinjyoti Gogoi told EFE.

“Therefore, for the protection of the future of the natives, for the protection of the rights of the natives people, in their own soil they must have their own rights," stressed Gogoi.

However, rights defenders believe that there is little likelihood of people declared as illegal immigrants deported to Bangladesh.

To begin with, India does not have an extradition agreement with the neighboring country, Human Rights Watch South Asia head Meenakshi Ganguly told EFE.

Ganguly emphasized that detaining or threatening people to deport them is not a good response and that the Indian state should find a way to integrate the Bangladeshi instead of leaving them stateless.

In many cases, these are people who have lived in Assam for decades. Many children born to immigrants have now been raised in the Indian state.

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"If you are declared a foreigner, the uncertainty of what is going to happen is huge," well-known social activist Harsh Mander told EFE. Mander fears that immigrants would be transferred to detention centers, places "really close to a vision of hell" and mostly put behind bars.

The activist had the opportunity to visit several of these centers, as special envoy of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), and check first-hand the poor condition of the detainees.

"One of the most likely (scenarios) is that they will continue to be allowed to live in India but with limited rights, like not allowed to vote or hold land," the activist said.

The procedure for drafting the NRC has drawn criticism from human rights organizations and international observers.

"The concern is really that the process has been quite arbitrary. The second concern is that this does appear to be targeting more Muslims than anybody else," Ganguly said.

Local authorities have been hostile to the Muslim minority community and United Nations workers after they concluded that the NRC could be manipulated to exclude even Indian citizens.

Amnesty International's India Head Aakar Patel underlined that poorer sections were most severely affected by the NRC.

"Many Indians, especially those belonging to poor and marginalized communities, do not have certified copies of identity documents to prove their citizenship," Patel said.

He said that the difficulties have been worsened as the region is usually experiences floods that often destroy people's houses and belongings.

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