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CAPTION- Surbir Singh at his shop, in Amritsar on Monnday, July 27 2020. EXPRESS PHOTO BY RANA SIMRANJIT SINGH

Family of Sikh refugees in Amritsar says told to go to Afghanistan to get documents for visa extension

Source – Kamaldeep Singh, Indian Express
It was in 1992 that Sardar Singh fled Afghanistan with his wife and three children due to alleged religious persecution. In years that followed, he made Amritsar his home. His fourth child, Arvinder Singh, was born here in 1994. While Sardar Singh died in 2015 as an Afghan refugee, his family has continued to stay in India on a visa extension that they get renewed every year. But this year, they have been asked to procure additional documents from Afghanistan for the visa extension to be processed.
Surbir Singh at his shop, in Amritsar on Monnday, July 27 2020.
Arvinder Singh (26), who has been camping Delhi to get the family’s application processed, said that first they were orally told by the Foreigner Regional Registration Office (FRRO) in Amritsar to get his father’s 28-year-old passport renewed. The Afghan embassy in Delhi, he added, later told them that the passport can only be renewed with help of documents that can only be arranged by visiting Afghanistan. According to him, the passport in his deceased father’s name was the only official document that the family brought with them and it recorded the names of his mother, and his three siblings born before him. So far, identity cards provided to all of them by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees had proved enough to get visa extensions year after year.“My parents and their three children had come to India on single passport to take refuge in India. Every year, we have to move from pillar to post to get visa extension for another year as refugees. But this year, we have been told to renew my father’s passport. It is 28-year-old document. We never renewed that passport. We had identity cards of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. We would get a year’s extension on these cards. But now we have been told to renew the passport to get an extension,” said Arvinder Singh.

However, FRRO officials in Amritsar refused to confirm to The Indian Express that any such demand had been made. “We are not even obliged to give information under RTI,” said top official at FRRO Amritsar, while refusing to share any details.

But Arvinder, who approached the Afghan Embassy in Delhi for renewal of the passport, said: “I reached Afghan Embassy to renew passport where Afghan officials told me that I need to go to Afghanistan to get some official papers on the basis of which passport can be renewed. It is an impossible demand. Our visa extension has already expired. We are in the lurch,” said Arvinder.

He added: “We were very happy after Citizenship Amendment Act was passed last year. We thought that it would end our suffering. My father died in hope of getting permanent citizenship of India. We thought at least we would get it. But nothing happened after that. In fact, our suffering has doubled this year and there has been no immediate solution in sight.”

BJP-led union government had passed CAA in December 2019. However, Congress government in Punjab had passed resolution against CAA in January this year.

Amritsar district administration officials said they have not received any notification from state or central government for the implementation of the CAA.

The district has several Hindu and Sikh refugees, who have come from Pakistan and Afghanistan alleging religious prosecutions.

“We haven’t received any notification related to CAA from Centre or state government. Right now we have been processing requests for permanent citizenship of India according to the old provision available in the law,” said Himanshu Aggarwal, Additional Deputy Commissioner of Amritsar.

Arvinder’s elder brother, Surber Singh, said, “There are around seven Afghan families in Amritsar and 30 Pakistani Sikh families. We all had applied under the old provision in law to get citizenship. But that was like an impossible law. Under old law, we were able to apply for citizenship only after 11 years of living as refugees. Then there was long process to apply for citizenship. I don’t know anyone who got citizenship under old law.”

Suber, who runs a tyre repair shot, added: “We were at the mercy of bureaucrats. They can make any demand. This year we have been asked to renew an old passport. We are tired living as refugees. We can’t buy property here without citizenship. We had some good friends and relatives who helped us to survive all these years. But there is uncertainty in our lives.”

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