JALANDHAR: In a surprising and unexplained trend, there has been a sudden rise in the number of Indian citizens seeking asylum in the US in 2015 compared to the two previous years. The figures were obtained from the US Citizenship and Immigration Services under Freedom of Information Act by North American Punjabi Association executive director Satnam Singh Chahal.
The data reveals some crucial details. While the number of Indians seeking asylum has increased four times in three years, there is a marginal increase in the number of women applicants.
It is generally men who make the treacherous journey with the help of human traffickers from Moscow into South America, and from there into the US through the Mexican border.
The US authorities refused to give the backgrounds of the applicants or why they sought asylum but in the recent past there have been a number of cases of Punjabis illegally reaching the US shores and then asking for asylum.
In April 2014 it was reported that 44 Punjabi detainees at the El Paso Detention Centre had gone on hunger strike. They said they were all political asylum seekers and alleged persecution by police and political authorities in India due to their political dissent.
The 44 men were arrested by the US authorities for illegally entering the country through the US-Mexico border in 2013.
Chahal, who had interviewed the men, said that all of them had taken help of human traffickers.
Also, a large number of Punjabis had taken asylum in the US and elsewhere during the Khalistan militancy era in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Many are believed to be on a government ‘blacklist’ because of which they don’t get visas to India. This often becomes an issue when political leaders meet NRI groups.
“Although the real reason behind the rise in asylum seekers from India is not known, a clear trend is noticeable. The way I read it, there is noticeable increase in their numbers after BJP came to power in Delhi in 2014,” said Chahal.
“The reasons can be different from year to year, but the government should also look at the issues of intolerance in the country.”
Punjab Governance Reforms Commission chairman Dr Parmod Kumar said that there is no strong factor, which can explain this trend of people fleeing the country and seek asylum in the US.
“Illegal human trafficking can be one of the reasons,” he said.
Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee president Manjit Singh GK, who has been working for review of the black list of Sikhs said that the rise in asylum seekers could be an embarrassment for the country.
While the Indian government should look into the issue, this could also be a short cut for reaching the US for a better life, not necessarily for political reasons,” he said.