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Issue of refugees in India UPSC NOTE

 World Refugee Day - June 20

  • Despite our glorious history of affording solace and shelter to refugees from the world over, it is ironic that India is neither a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention (which outlines the rights of asylum seekers and refugees, alongside the obligations of host states) nor to its 1967 Protocol

  • Nor does our country have a domestic asylum framework

  • Whereas, with our history, we ought to lead the global march on the question of refugee rights, our present actions and lack of a legal framework does our heritage no credit

Current Situation and Concerns

  • The Asylum Bill, 2021, introduced in Lok sabha, followed close on the heels of our government expelling to Myanmar two batches of Rohingya refugees despite the grave risk of persecution in the country they had fled

  • In conducting this act of “refoulement” in violation of international law, our government revealed both religious bigotry (the refugees were Muslim) and intolerance

  • In fact, in 2017, the Ministry of Home Affairs issued a circular classifying Rohingyas as “illegal migrants”, leading to their being callously flung into detention centres across India, where they languish in deplorable conditions — unable to communicate with their families and without any access to medical facilities, food, sanitation and water supply — until they are deported. 

  • As of August 2023, over 700 Rohingyas were in detention throughout India.

  • The government has also been inhospitable to the Chakmas in Arunachal Pradesh and Myanmarese in Mizoram

  • In the absence of a consistent and comprehensive law to deal with asylum seekers, we lack a clear perspective on refugee management

  • We have a flurry of such laws as the Foreigners Act, 1946, the Registration of Foreigners Act, 1939, the Passports Act (1967), the Extradition Act, 1962, the Citizenship Act, 1955 (including its ominous 2019 amendment) and the Foreigners Order, 1948, all of which club all foreign individuals together as “aliens”

  • Because India has neither subscribed to international conventions on the topic nor set up a domestic legislative framework to deal with refugees, their problems are dealt with in an ad hoc manner, and like other foreigners, they always face the possibility of being deported. 

  • While speaking of refugee protection, we must not limit ourselves just to providing asylum

  • We need a rigorous mechanism to ensure that refugees can access basic public services — chief among them medical facilities and educational institutions — and legally seek jobs to get back on their feet.

Proposed Solution

  • In 2022, a Private Member’s Bill in the Lok Sabha was introduced seeking the enactment of a Refugee and Asylum law. 

  • The Bill laid down comprehensive criteria for recognising asylum seekers and refugees, and prescribed specific rights and duties accruing from such status. 

  • It afforded to all foreigners — regardless of their nationality, race, or religion — the right to seek asylum in India

  • It also called for the creation of a National Commission for Asylum to review and decide all such applications

The Role of the Judiciary 

  • In 1996, the Supreme Court of India held that not just Indians but everybody living in India, irrespective of nationality, enjoys the inviolable rights guaranteed by Articles 14, 20 and 21 of the Constitution of India

  • On these grounds, the apex court, in the landmark case of National Human Rights Commission vs State Of Arunachal Pradesh & Anr., stopped the forcible eviction of Chakma refugees who had entered Arunachal Pradesh in 1995

  • The Court held that an application for asylum must be properly processed, and till a decision is made whether to grant or refuse asylum, the state cannot forcibly evict an asylum seeker

  • Yet, at times, different judges have taken radically different approaches, which we saw aplenty in the Rohingya case. 

  • The enactment and enumeration of refugee rights will reduce our reliance on judge-centric approaches — or, even worse, the whims of Home Ministry bureaucrats, police officers and politicians.

India's Role in the World

  • The problems of refugees worldwide are problems that demand international cooperation

  • India, as a pillar of the world community and as a significant pole in the emerging multipolar world, must play its own part in this noble task, devising solutions for refugees that offer blueprints beyond borders

  • In so doing, we would uphold our own finest traditions and the highest standards of our democracy, alongside demonstrating that we truly are what we have forever claimed to be: a vishwaguru, striving inexorably to serve, in the words of Jawaharlal Nehru, “the still larger cause of humanity”

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Learnerz IAS | Concept oriented UPSC Classes in Malayalam: Issue of refugees in India UPSC NOTE
Issue of refugees in India UPSC NOTE
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