India's home ministry said on Wednesday that Rohingya refugees in the capital New Delhi would be held at a detention centre and then deported, contradicting a minister's earlier statement promising flats and security to members of the Muslim minority.
Hardeep Singh Puri, federal minister for housing and urban affairs, had earlier on Wednesday outlined new provisions for the Rohingya, signalling a potential change in the government's critical stance towards the refugee group from Myanmar. Rohingya refugees would be allotted flats in western Delhi's Bakkarwala area, provided basic amenities and round-the-clock police protection, Puri had said on Twitter.
But, just hours after Puri's tweets, the federal home ministry said in a statement that "Rohingya illegal foreigners" would remain at a locality in the city's southern reaches as authorities worked to deport them.
"Illegal foreigners are to be kept in the detention centre till their deportation as per law," the home ministry said in a statement.
"The Government of Delhi has not declared the present location as a detention centre. They have been directed to do the same immediately."
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government has previously tried to repatriate members of the Rohingya, who are a minority community in Buddhist-majority Myanmar. Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have fled from persecution and waves of violence in their homeland over the years, mainly to Bangladesh.
As of early this year, around 1,100 Rohingya lived in Delhi and another 17,000 elsewhere in India, working mainly as manual labourers, hawkers and rickshaw pullers, according to estimates from Rohingya rights activist Ali Johar.
He said some 2,000 Rohingya had left for Bangladesh this year, amid fears of being deported.
"Most of the Rohingya in Delhi now live in rented accommodation, where they feel safe, or in settlements," said Johar, 27, who moved to India a decade ago and lives with his family.
Speaking to Reuters before the home ministry's statement, Johar underlined fears among the community, which has faced the ire of some Indian right-wing Hindu groups, that the new facilities could be used to corral the Rohingya.
"If it turns out to be a detention camp, that will be a nightmare for us," he said.