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India leaves nearly two million people off citizens' list, fate uncertain

Resentment against illegal immigrants has simmered for years in Assam, one of India’s poorest states, with residents blaming outsiders, many said to come from neighbouring Bangladesh, for stealing their jobs and land.

Picture: Pixabay.com

GUWAHATI - Nearly 2 million people have been left off a list of citizens released on Saturday in India’s northeastern state of Assam, after a mammoth years-long exercise to check illegal immigration that critics said targeted the region’s Muslim minority.

Resentment against illegal immigrants has simmered for years in Assam, one of India’s poorest states, with residents blaming outsiders, many said to come from neighbouring Bangladesh, for stealing their jobs and land.

Officials checked documents submitted by roughly 33 million people for a draft released last year of a National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam, which left out more than 4 million residents of the state, many of them Hindu.

But the final list now includes 31.1 million people, with 1.9 million excluded, Prateek Hajela, the coordinator of the state’s register, said in a statement.

“Any person who is not satisfied with the outcome of the claims and objections can file an appeal before the foreigners’ tribunals,” Hajela said, adding that everyone had been given an adequate opportunity to be heard.

Those excluded have 120 days to prove their citizenship at hundreds of regional quasi-judicial bodies known as foreigner’s tribunals. If ruled to be illegal immigrants there, they can appeal to higher courts.

Critics accuse Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Hindu nationalist party of stoking the sentiment against illegal immigrants, and misusing the register to target even legal Muslim citizens.

His close aide, Home Minister Amit Shah, has previously vowed to weed out illegal immigrants, calling them “termites”.

Officials in Assam say they do not know what will eventually be done with those finally adjudged foreigners. Bangladesh has not committed to accepting them.

More than 1,000 people are being held in Assam’s six detention centres for illegal immigrants and the state government has said it seeks to set up more centres.

Human rights activists have criticized conditions at the centres, and lawyers and activists have outlined problems with the functioning of the foreigners’ tribunals.

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