banner articles

Global Refugee Crisis

  Jul 07, 2020

Global Refugee Crisis

What is the magnitude of current global refuge crisis?

According to the UN, by the end of 2018, there were around 70.8 million people around the world who had left their home countries because of conflict and persecution. Of these 70.8 million, roughly 30 million are refugees. Globally, more two-thirds of all refugees come from five countries: Syria (6.7 million), Afghanistan (2.7 million), South Sudan (2.3 million), Myanmar (1.1 million), and Somalia (0.9 million).

According to the UN’s Global Trends report released in June 2019 this year, there are 37,000 new displacements every day. In 2018, 13.6 million people were newly displaced due to conflict and or persecution.

Who is a refugee?

The UN defines refugees as those individuals that have fled their own countries because of persecution, war or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Most likely, they cannot return home or are afraid to do so. War and ethnic, tribal and religious violence are leading causes of refugees fleeing their countries.

Why refuge crisis intensifying across the world?

Refugee crises today is caused by any number of reasons but the most common are war (Bangladesh, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan), domestic conflicts (Tibet, Sri Lanka, Myanmar), natural disasters (famine), environmental displacement, human trafficking and—this one will turn up at all our doorsteps soon—climate change.

What is Global refugee forum?

The first Global Refugee Forum (GRF) held in December 2019 Geneva, Switzerland, jointly hosted by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the United Nations Refugee Agency, and the Government of Switzerland.

At the two-day event, member states of the United Nations (UN) debated the response of nations to the global refugee situation.

What is current refugee situation in India?

India is home to diverse groups of refugees, ranging from Buddhist Chakmas from the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh, to Bhutanese from Nepal, Muslim Rohingyas from Myanmar and small populations from Somalia, Sudan and other sub Saharan African countries. 

According to the UNHCR, there were 204,600 refugees, asylum seekers and ‘others of concern’ in India in 2011. They were made up of 13,200 people from Afghanistan, 16,300 from Myanmar, 2,100 from various other countries and the two older populations of around 100,000 Tibetans and 73,000 Sri Lankan Tamils. The UNHCR financially assisted 31,600 of them.

In late 2011, the Rohingya started to arrive in India’s Northeast following stepped-up persecution by the Myanmar’s armed forces. According to the Home Ministry, there are roughly 14,000 Rohingya refugees in India who are registered with the UNHCR, and there are estimated to be 40,000 Rohingya living in India illegally. Other refugees include Ahmadiyya, Shia, Hazaras from Pakistan and Afghanistan.

What is legislation with India deals with refugee?

India is not a signatory to the 1951 Convention on Refugees or the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees. 

India does not have any domestic law for refugees, so until now has been dealing with refugees on a case-by-case basis. The refugees are handled under the Passports Act, 1967 and Foreigners Act of 1946, Extradition Act, 1962, and the Citizenship Act, 1954. They define person from non-Indian nationality as a foreigner, independent of his/her specific legal status. However, there are no laws for protection of refugees, Constitution of India grants right to equality (Article 14) and right to life and liberty (Article 21) to its non-citizens also.

In 2011, the Union government circulated to all states and Union Territories a Standard Operating Procedure to deal with foreign nationals who claimed to be refugees. As per this procedure, a foreigner claiming a refugee status is verified and if it is found to be genuine case, he/she is issued a Long-Term Visa (LTV).

How does India see Rohingya refugees?

In 2017, in an affidavit filed before the Supreme Court, the government said 

1. Rohingya presence in the country has serious national security ramifications and it poses national security threats. 

2. threat of demographic imbalance

3. Illegal influx of Rohingyas into India started in 2012-13 and inputs suggest links of some of the immigrants with Pak-based terror groups.

4. Also, radicalized Rohingyas might attack Indian Buddhist. 

Why India is not signatory to the 1951 Convention on Refugees?

  1. Convention caters to need of individual asylum seekers, what India is dealing with since its inception is mass influx, plus mixed flow of refugees, asylum seekers, legal/illegal migrants
  2. Reasons are also security-related. The line of argument is that borders in South Asia are extremely porous and any conflict can result in a mass movement of people. 
  3. India also fears uncontrolled infiltration of terrorists, criminals and unwarranted elements.
  4. India voiced that migration is a matter of bilateral and not multilateral relations and International agreements can restrict their freedom of action.
  5. A strain on local infrastructure and resources in India that is poorly equipped to deal with sudden spikes in population.
  6. It can upset the demographic balance, a tinderbox in India, as shown by contentious issues like NRC in Assam.
  7. Convention call for non-refoulement which worries India.

What are issues with India’s current informal policy to deal with refugees?

 Without a law, India has handled the inflow of refugees through a mix of political and administrative measures. Therefore, India’s approach, at best, can be called ad hoc, coming out with a series of procedures and relief and rehabilitation measures.

  1. In the absence of a law, India has been found making discriminatory treatment between refugees, for instance Two groups that have fared especially well are the Sri Lankan Tamils and the Tibetans while others have not received similar goodwill.
  2. There is no specific agency or machinery that has been responsible for determining the status of refugees
  3. There have been allegations of politics of vote bank when dealing with refugees in absence of law that could ensure transparency and fairness

What is the way forward for India?

  1. Formulate a formal domestic refugee policy and law
  2. Look after refugee’s health, education of children, security of refugees
  3. Give work permits
  4. Identify those threat to Internal security on priority basis

Having hosted close to 500,000 refugees at various points, India should formalize its arrangements. A law will also bring about greater coherence in terms of treatment meted out to various refugee groups, instead of the somewhat discriminatory treatment to different refugee groups.

For a country such as India that has acted by and large generously in hosting refugees, it should aim to improve its credentials with the global community in general. This will include India pushing for a law that will include human rights standards in the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, thus getting rid of the arbitrariness currently on display.