Asia - Pacific

Experts urge legislation or policy to govern refugee issue in India

On eve of World Refugees Day, prominent Indian experts say government is choosy about allowing refugees to stay in country

Ahmad Adil   | 20.06.2022
Experts urge legislation or policy to govern refugee issue in India File Photo

NEW DELHI

Despite hosting several refugees from neighboring countries, experts in India believe that in the absence of legislation or a proper policy to govern their stay, they are facing immense problems.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency to mark the World Refugee Day, which is being observed on Monday, prominent human rights activist Ravi Nair, said that refugees face a lot of problems in the country in absence of the domestic legislation to attend to their issues. He said that India is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Convention and its 1967 protocol and does not have a formal asylum policy.

“All foreign nationals (including those claiming to be refugees) are governed by the provisions contained in India's foreigners Act, 1946,” he said.

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugee India, as many as 47,098 refugees and asylum-seekers were registered with their New Delhi-based office. Out of them, 976 individuals mainly from Afghanistan and Myanmar were registered in February 2022.

Officially the government has maintained that since the refugees enter the country clandestinely and surreptitiously without valid travel documents, they do not possess authentic data at the central level.

"In absence of a law...India continues to treat refugees arbitrarily, discriminating against them and inhumanely detaining and deporting them, in violation of customary international law and its international treaty obligations," said Nair, who is executive director of the New Delhi-based South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre.

He urged for enacting domestic legislation to cover all principles necessary to host and attend to the needs of refugees.

"This must have a robust appeals process taking into cognizance all principles of humanitarian and human rights law," said Nair.


Absence of domestic legislation

Nair said that the government in the past has differentiated between illegal immigrants and refugees despite the absence of domestic legislation.

"For instance, at no time has India acted to expel Tibetan refugees or to close their borders to new arrivals from Tibet. Like Sri Lankan Tamils, the Indian government considers Tibetans in settlements and refugee camps throughout the country to be refugees," he said.

"The government even issued special documentation to Tibetans and Sri Lankans, recognizing their status as refugees, and allowing them to access basic socio-economic rights,” he added.

But most experts say that this liberal attitude shown to Tibetans and Tamils is not extended to refugees of other neighboring countries facing a similar situation.

According to Nair, legally, a refugee is a special category of immigrant and cannot be clubbed with an illegal immigrant and the living condition of refugees from Myanmar, especially the Rohingya refugees is "abysmal."

Tens of thousands of Rohingya were killed and thousands of women and girls were raped when Myanmar forces launched a crackdown on the minority Muslim community in Rakhine State in August 2017. More than 1.2 million Rohingya, described by the UN as the world's most persecuted people, were forced to flee Myanmar.

Rohingya activists in India have been demanding New Delhi uphold commitments to human rights and democratic credentials.


Deplorable conditions

Suhas Chakma, the director of Rights and Risks Analysis Group, told Anadolu Agency that the conditions of the refugees present in India are deplorable.

"Not only is there the absence of any assistance, but there is also no protection from arrest and deportation either," he said.

"It implies that the refugees do not have the vehicle to claim the rights. It impacts every aspect of refugee life and rights in India," he said, terming the absence of the domestic law as the most serious problem

Echoing Nair, Chakma also maintains that domestic law is the only way forward to improve the lives and the rights of the refugees.

"There is no substitute for refugee law to improve the conditions of the refugees," he added.

He also said that as India has not signed the Refugee Convention it is seen as a refugee-unfriendly country and that has affected its image globally.

"India is not signing the refugee convention because it does not want to be governed by the rule of law concerning the refugees. This affects India's image -- ultimately despite hosting refugees," said Chakma.

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