As many as 2550 foreign Tablighi Jamaat members from nearly 40 countries, who were staying in India during the lockdown, have been banned for 10 years from entering India for violating visa rules, officials said on Thursday.
The decision was taken by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) after it received details of the Jamaat workers from the states and Union Territories. Experts say that so many foreigners have never been banned from entering the country in one go and for such a long duration. Notably, under the Foreigners Act, the maximum penalty for violation of visa rules is imprisonment for five years and a fine.
According to MHA, the foreign Tablighis participated in religious congregations and preaching activities while in India on a tourist visa when they should have availed “missionary visa”. Also, they were found to be illegally living in mosques and seminaries across the country.
The decision to take action against foreign Tablighi Jamaat members was first taken on March 28 after over 2,300 Tablighi jamaat workers, including 250 foreigners, were found to be living at its headquarters located at Delhi’s Nizamuddin after the nation-wide lockdown was announced on March 24. The workers had attended congregations at the Nizamuddin Markaz between March 13 and 15.
Many Tablighi members later tested positive for coronavirus. The Nizamuddin Markaz emerged as one of the major coronavirus hotspots in the country with around a thousand COVID-19 positive cases and over two dozen deaths traced to them.
The blacklisted Tablighi foreigners include nationals from nearly 40 countries- the US, the UK, France, Australia, Russia, China, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Kyrgyzstan, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Egypt, Ethiopia, Fiji, Gambia, Iran, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Madagascar, Mali, the Philippines, Qatar, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sudan, Sweden, Tanzania, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia and Ukraine.
The government has already decided not to issue tourist visas to any foreigner who wishes to visit India and take part in Tablighi activities.
After finding about their illegal stay in India, Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba had also told the states and UTs to take action against foreigners, who have participated in the missionary activities of the Tablighi Jamaat, for violation of visa conditions.
In April, the home ministry had directed DGPs of all the states and UTs, and the Delhi Police Commissioner to take necessary legal action against all such violators, on priority, under relevant sections of the Foreigners Act, 1946 and Disaster Management Act, 2005.