NEW DELHI, May 13 � In what is likely to trigger further controversy, a top government official today stirred the hornet�s nest by claiming that there are currently over 20 million �irregular migrants� in the country.
�There are over 20 million irregular migrants in India, which is more than the number of irregular migrants in both the European Union (EU) and the US,� said Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs (MOIA), G. Gurucharan on Thursday, while addressing the National Stakeholder�s Workshop for Prevention of Irregular Migration.
�Our open borders with Bangladesh and Nepal have placed us in a difficult situation with immigrants entering the country from there,� he added.
Ever since the then Union Minister of State for Home Affairs, Sriprakash Jaiswal made a statement in the Parliament on July 14, 2004, that there were over 12 million illegal Bangladeshi infiltrators all over India, the Centre has been avoiding giving a figure to the huge illegal migrant population.
In his reply to a Parliamentary question, Jaiswal had stated that out of the estimated 12 million illegal migrants, 5 million were present in Assam alone, as of December 31, 2001, while West Bengal topped the list with 5.7 million Bangladeshis.
Jaiswal�s reply provoked Tarun Gogoi Government to voice its strong protest and matters soon reached Prime Minister�s Office. Jaiswal was forced to retract his statement and �correct his reply� in the House.
Since then the Centre has been very careful in responding to similar questions by the MPs over the population of the illegal migrants. It is difficult to put a figure to the illegal migrant population, as it enters the country clandestinely, is the oft given reply by the Home Ministry.
It often gives out figures of those caught by the Border Security Force at the border and those caught overstaying.
Recently, Union Home Minister, P Chidambaram describing the problem of illegal migrants as grave, said Action that is taken on illegal immigrants, or, on people who overstayed their visas, predates the Supreme Court judgement and continues after the judgement. �I don�t think the Supreme Court judgement makes any difference to the policy adopted by the successive Governments,� he stated.
Between 2000 and 2009, up to August 2009, 1.03 lakh Bangladeshi nationals, who were intercepted on the border, were pushed back into that country. During the same period, people who were overstaying their visas, or, were found illegally staying in India, have been deported. Every year, several thousands have been deported, he said.
In the year 2004, 38,0005 people were deported. �So, both the things take place. We push them back at the point at which they are intercepted. We also deport them if they are found anywhere in India,� he said.
�But it is a great problem. Therefore, we are doing our best to address it. The policies of the successive Governments, as far as I know, are more or less the same,� Chidambaram said.
Meanwhile, the joint Secretary MOIA said studies by the United Nations Organisation on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) identify India as an important country of origin, transit and destination for migrant workers.
Though majority of migrant�s head mainly to Gulf countries and Malaysia, the trend shows a periodic increase in migration flows towards the US, Canada and EU member states.
�Irregular migration cannot be dealt with in isolation in a macro-economic situation. Policies that the government adopts towards migration and immigration will significantly impact our ability to respond to the problem of irregular migration,� he added.