New Delhi: India on Thursday extended a helping hand to Pakistani Hindus who have arrived here on tourist/pilgrimage visas, saying New Delhi was willing to issue long-term visas to them if they apply under the norms.
The announcement was made this morning by Union Home Secretary RK Singh, after the government was taken by surprise by a large number of Pakistani Hindus declaring their wish to stay on the Indian soil after crossing over.
"So far, no one has applied for long-term visa. Basically, we have norms for the long-term visa. If they apply under them, they will get it," Singh said here.
The government had earlier said that it will look into the issue.
Government sources had said that Hindus from Pakistan who are visiting India for pilgrimage were given visas like any other Pakistani nationals.
“This comes unexpectedly that such a large number say they do not want to return,” the sources said.
“In terms of the people turning up, there has been an element of surprise for all of us. Last year too we had visitors, but there was no influx, apart from one particular case”.
The families, who had communicated their desire to stay through the media, have yet to approach the Indian government officially.
Commenting on India`s overall refugee policy, the sources said by and large India does not send back people fleeing persecution but deals on a case by case basis.
"At the same time, we try not to become a magnate," said sources, pointing out that India is currently also dealing with the issue of Rohingyas from Myanmar, a dispute it is not party to.
A large number of Pakistani Hindu families have crossed over into India in recent days, and Pakistani Interior Minister had alleged that he suspected a "conspiracy" in the giving of visas to a large number of people.
Mukesh Kumar Ahuja, a Pakistani Hindu, said: "Things are so bad for Hindus in Pakistan that we have decided that we will not return at all even though we have signed documents in Pakistan assuring authorities that we will return. We will request for asylum here. We have been forced to give up our established business there."
"Religious conversion is being forced, kidnappings, murders and beatings are frequent for Hindus and they are being harassed (by Islamists). There are at least 5,000 Hindu families who are waiting to move to India but the Pakistani authorities are holding them back," said a visibly-disturbed Ahuja, who lives in Baluchistan.
He said that one of his relatives, Ravi, was kidnapped recently and crores of rupees were sought in ransom. "When the ransom was not paid, they killed him," he said.
Others who arrived here earlier this week said that hundreds of Hindu families wanted to leave Pakistan and come to settle in India.
"Even though the Pakistan authorities have set up a commission for the Hindu families to stop their exodus, things are so bad that Hindus just want to leave Pakistan. When the Hindus take a visa for India and come to the border, they are being forced to sign documents promising to return to Pakistan," said another harried Pakistani Hindu, who did not wish to be identified.
"Our children are not safe there. Whenever they go out of the home, we fear for them," Suman Devi, who arrived Monday, said.
Nearly 250 Pakistan Hindus had arrived in India through the Wagah-Attari land border check-post last week. They were allowed to enter India after being detained on the Pakistan side for several hours and only allowed to proceed after signing documents saying that they would return to Pakistan after their 33-day pilgrimage.
(With Agency inputs)