UN to decide fate of Pakistanis in Tihar
Lodged at the Tihar jail for the past 32 months, a group of Pakistanis who burnt their passports to avoid returning home in April 2007, might finally get the refugee status they seek. Abhishek Sharan reports.delhi Updated: Jan 14, 2011 22:58 IST
Lodged at the Tihar jail for the past 32 months, a group of Pakistanis who burnt their passports to avoid returning home in April 2007, might finally get the refugee status they seek.
On the directions of the Delhi high court, a team of counsellors from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has begun interviewing the 63 Pakistanis on a one-on-one basis at the jail to find out why they are unwilling to return to Pakistan and seek refugee status then naturalisation in any other country.
“The discussions between the Pakistani inmates and the UNHCR counsellors is confidential and is being documented in writing,” said a jail source who is not authorised to speak to the media.
Confirming this, Tihar jail’s spokesperson Sunil Gupta said, “The UNHCR counsellors are to find out why the Pakistani inmates are reluctant to return to their country and if they are eligible for being recognised as refugees by this UN body.”
Gupta added, “The UNHCR team will submit its findings to the Delhi high court as per its direction.” The Pakistanis, who belong to a minority religious sect (‘Gohar Shahi’), are lodged at sub-jails 4 and 6.
The UNHCR team has already interviewed the Pakistani inmates at sub jail number 4.
The Delhi high court had, on December 2 last year, issued a protection order, restraining the Indian government from deporting the Pakistanis to their country. The order would remain in force for a period of 70 days (10 weeks), beginning December 2.
The sect, to which the inmates belong, considers Pakistani spiritual leader ‘His Lordship’ Riaz Ahmed Gohar Shahi, ‘a divine man and the Promised Messiah of Islam, Hinduism and other faiths’.
Acting on a petition filed on behalf of these Pakistanis by the Mehdi Foundation International (MFI), the high court had directed the UNHCR to take a decision within 42 days (six weeks) with regard to the inmates’ request for naturalisation (to grant full citizenship to one of foreign birth) in any other country that might be
prepared to give them refugee status, in case the Indian government refuses to grant them asylum.
The Mehdi Foundation International had requested the HC to stop the implementation of the home ministry’s decision to withdraw cases against them and deport them.
According to the Mehdi Foundation International petition, the Pakistanis had stated their intention to stay in India and not return to Pakistan, where they feared persecution on religious grounds.