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Indian government set to grant citizenship to Chakma refugees

Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju were among those who discussed the refugee issue at a high-level meeting on September 13. (File photo) Photograph: (Reuters)

WION Web Team New Delhi, Delhi, India Sep 13, 2017, 10.21 AM (IST)

The Centre will soon grant citizenship to nearly one lakh Chakma and Hajong refugees who are currently living in camps in the Northeast, officials said today (September 13).

The Supreme Court had in 2015 directed the central government to grant citizenship to the Chakma and Hajong refugees, who migrated to India from the erstwhile East Pakistan five decades ago and are mostly staying in Arunachal Pradesh.

The issue of granting citizenship was discussed at a meeting convened by Home Minister Rajnath Singh and attended by Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Pema Khandu, Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval.

"The Supreme Court order on Chakmas and Hajongs was discussed in the meeting. We need to implement the order as early as possible," a home ministry official said.

The Arunachal Pradesh government had challenged the top court order to no avail, after which both the Central and state governments started consultations to find a solution to the issue.

Citizenship to the Chakmas and Hajongs has been refused by the civil society in Arunachal Pradesh on the argument that it would change the demography of the state.

The government said today it is trying to find a workable solution by proposing that the refugees will not be given rights, including ownership of land, enjoyed by Scheduled Tribes in Arunachal Pradesh.

They may, however, be given "Inner Line permits" which are required for non-locals in Arunachal Pradesh to travel and work.

The refugees' population has increased from about 5,000 in 1964-69 to one lakh. At present, they don't have citizenship and land rights but are provided basic amenities by the state government.

The initiative on the Chakma and Hajong refugees comes amid the ongoing row over the Central government's plans to deport Rohingya Muslims, who came to India due to alleged persecution in Myanmar.

Kiren Rijiju, who hails from Arunachal Pradesh, previously said the Rohingyas are illegal immigrants. He also said that India absorbed the maximum number of refugees in the world.

On Monday, in Geneva, UN human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein flayed any attempts by India to deport Rohingyas to Myanmar when the ethnic minority community was facing violence in their country. 

Chakmas and Hajongs, originally residents of the Chittagong Hill Tracts in the erstwhile East Pakistan, left their homeland when it was submerged by the Kaptai dam project in the Sixties.

The Chakmas, who are Buddhists, and the Hajongs, who are Hindus, also allegedly faced religious persecution and entered India through the then Lushai Hills district of Assam, now in Mizoram.

The Centre moved the majority of them to the North East Frontier Agency (NEFA), which is now Arunachal Pradesh.

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