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India does have a refugee problem

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April 10, 2021

Why in news?

Recently large numbers of Myanmarese citizens are moving towards Indian border which has revived the debate about refugee protection.

What is the problem with refugees?

  • In India, the issue of refugees tends to get subsumed under illegal immigration.
  • Illegal immigration is a threat to the socio-political fabric of the country and it has potential security implications.
  • India has argued over time that illegal immigration from the neighbouring countries to India must come to an end.
  • Moreover the policies and remedies to deal with these issues suffer from a lack of clarity and policy utility.

What are the ambiguities in dealing with refugees?

  • In India, illegal immigrants and refugees are viewed as one and the same and are covered under the Foreigners Act, 1946.
  • The act defines foreigners as a person who is not a citizen of India.
  • Though there are fundamental differences between illegal immigrants and refugees, India is legally ill-equipped to deal with them separately due to a lack of legal provisions.
  • Moreover India is not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol which pertains to refugee protection.
  • Its refugee policy is guided primarily by ad hocism which often has its own political utility.
  • These adhoc measures enable the government to pick and choose what kind of refugees it wants to admit and what kind of refugees it wants to avoid.
  • This opens the door for geopolitical considerations while deciding to admit refugees or not.
  • If India admits Myanmar migrants, China would use the opportunity to hurt India’s interests in Myanmar which prompted India not to admit the refugees.
  • There are some flaws in the International convention too.

Why India should not join the Refugee convention?

  • India has been one of the largest recipients of refugees in the world in spite of not being a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol.
  • Given its track record of refugee protection and vulnerable geopolitical and socio-economic situation, India need not accede to the convention and the protocol in the way it currently stands.
  • The definition of refugees in the 1951 convention pertains only to the violation of civil and political rights, but not the economic rights of individuals.
  • If economic rights are included, it would cause major burden on the developed world and in South Asia, it could be a problematic for India.
  • Secondly, India should not accede to the convention at a time when the Northern countries are violating it in both letter and spirit.
  • India should accede only when western states commit to roll back their no entry regime which they have established for decades.
  • This no entry regime has a range of legal and administrative measures-visa restrictions, carrier sanctions, interdictions, third safe-country rule.
  • It also constitutes restrictive interpretations of the definition of refugee, withdrawal of social welfare benefits to asylum seekers, and widespread practices of detention.

What can be done now?

  • Since the citizenship amendment act is deeply discriminatory nature and it cannot address the concerns of refugees who are fleeing their home country.
  • In the absence of proper legal measures, refugee documentation, and work permit, they can end up in becoming illegal immigrants.
  • Hence a domestic refugee law needs to be created which will offer temporary shelter and work permit for refugees.
  • It must make a distinction between temporary migrant workers, illegal immigrants and refugees and deal them differently through proper legal and institutional mechanisms.
  • Therefore there is urgent need to address the issue of refugee protection in India and put in proper institutional measures.



Source: The Hindu


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