This chart shows refugee/asylum-seeker populations in India from most common countries and CAA countries of origin.

By Katharina Buchholz

Controversy around the Citizenship Amendment Act was renewed in India Monday as the government announced the implementation of the law passed in 2019 that opens a new path to citizenship for past arrivals from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. The act has been deemed anti-Muslim as it only applies to Hindu, Parsi, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain and Christian refugees from the three Muslim-majority countries, but leaves out Muslim refugees. It also does not take into account non-Muslim refugees from non-Muslim countries and only applies to those who arrived in 2014 or earlier.

Protests against the act had turned violent in 2019 and 2020 and flared up again in some parts of the country, including in major cities, in Kerala and in Assam in India’s Northern region that hosts the most Muslims. Opposition-led West Bengal and Kerala announced that they would not be implementing the law.

Upon its passage in 2019, the act was looking to cut the wait time to acquire citizenship for those included down to a minimum of five years. Now, 2014 arrivals are already quite close to the regular 11-year cutoff for the naturalization of foreigners in India. However, the act includes another crucial exemption for the covered groups, the ability to apply for citizenship even without being able to prove legal residence since arrival.

According to data from the UNHCR, the law is in fact ignoring the largest refugee groups in India and if it is aiding the included groups, it would likely be those without documentation. Only 12 refugees from Bangladesh and none from Pakistan were registered in India with the official agency as of mid-2023. The largest groups of refugees and asylum-seekers in the country come from Sri Lanka, the Muslim minority of Rohingyas in Myanmar and from China, specifically Tibet. Afghanistan is the exception with more than 13,000 registered refugees and asylum-seekers in India – however, due to the ongoing conflict affecting all population groups in the country, these could be either Muslims (including of the persecuted Hazara ethnic group) or members of the smaller Hindu, Sikh, Parsi and potentially Christian minorities of Afghanistan.

Indian Census data shows that immigration waves from Pakistan as well as Bangladesh happened before 1991, when almost 80 percent of those who were born in Pakistan or Bangladesh and lived in India in 2011 immigrated. Between 2002 and 2011, only 6.5-7.5 percent of all immigrants from these two countries arrived in India.

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