A section of people from Punjab are seeking asylum in Canada and the US on the pretext of letters that portray them as victims of state-sponsored persecution.

Law enforcement agencies are examining the pattern, which they describe as disturbing, given that attempts are being made to falsely paint India as a police state for seeking political asylum abroad, said government sources aware of the developments. Such conspiracies are also helping to whip up pro-Khalistan sentiments in Europe and the US, and are now on the rise in Punjab, government sources stressed.

Pro-Khalistan groups have been using Canada to stoke anti-India sentiments

Pro-Khalistan groups have been using Canada to stoke anti-India sentiments | Photo Credit: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar), for instance, has been giving out such letters to those wanting to migrate to the US and Canada.A party’s official letter of April 24, 2021, alleged that its “own president Simranjit Singh Mann has been suffering at the hands of the Indian government and many other party workers have fled from India to avoid future prosecution”.

The letter, reviewed by BusinessLine,was signed by Varinder Singh Sekhon, the national vice-president (Youth) of SAD (Amritsar), and issued in the name of a man (identity withheld) who is from Jalandhar but was residing in the US. The communique said the person was a member of the party before leaving India in 2014 and should be given political asylum since he faces “imminent threat, persecution or even death by leaders, members of opposition parties and Indian police”.

Similar letters, also accessed by BusinessLine, have been written for other persons from Punjab and invokes same uncorroborated charges and stokes sentiments inimical to the country’s interest.

‘All factual’

SAD (Amritsar) chief Simranjit Singh Mann accepted in a conversation with the newspaper that letters have been issued by his party to Sikhs and described them “all factual”.

“There is no religious freedom in India. Sikh community has been under fear since Operation Blue Star and the riots, and are looking for political asylum abroad for their safety,”he said in response to queries on the letters facilitating immigration on questionable facts.

Director General of Punjab Police VK Bhawra, however, was not available for comments despite calls and text messages. ADGP (Intelligence) SS Shrivastava expressed his unwillingness to talk on the “sensitive” issue.

Rising asylum applications

Official figures compiled by the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) of Canada show a multifold rise in applications for asylum from India in the last decade or so.In 2013, only 225 applications from India seeking asylum were filed with the IRB, but the numbers shot up to 2,642 last year, data compiled by the IRB and presented under the head Canada’s ‘Refugee Protection Claims (New System) by Country Of Alleged Persecution’ show. In fact, the application figures, available on IRB’s official website, were 6,381 for 2019. It came down for the next two years, probably because of travel restrictions imposed due to Covid pandemic.

A research report on country conditions prepared by the IRB’s Canada Research Directorate recognises that SAD(Amritsar) “sympathises with armed Sikh separatists” and believes in “creation of a separate Sikh country, called Khalistan”.

Canada being a immigration-friendly nation has somehow become home to Khalistani radicals, who are part of a large influential NRI community staying in the north American country. Government sources said the relations between the two countries are not very cordial now, and one of the prime reasons for this is Canada’s inability to take action against radical elements trying to stoke pro-Khalistan sentiments in India with the help of Pakistan’s ISI.

Indians are expected to benefit the most out of Canada’s Immigration Levels Plan for 2022-24. The country had announced that it will accept over 431,000 immigrations in 2022, 447,055 in 2023 and 451,000 in 2024. Reports suggest that over 27,000 Indians gained entry into Canada in 2020. And over 50,000 of them were invited to apply to become permanent residents.