The recent coup d’état in Myanmar and the ensuing political circumstances have resulted in an increase in the number of illegal migrants to India. India was already facing the issue of Rohingya refugees of Myanmar. The issue of illegal migrants coming from Myanmar due to the current political crisis is a matter of concern.
Historically, refugees from many neighbouring countries have arrived in India. Refugees become a problem for the state as it increases the economic burden on the resources of the country as well as can increase the demographic change in the long term, besides posing a security threat.
However, supporting the refugees is a core component of the human rights paradigm. Also, given the geopolitical, economic, ethnic and religious contexts of refugee migration to India in any case, it does not appear to have an early end.Therefore, there is an urgent need to refer and address the issue of refugee protection in India and implement appropriate legal and institutional measures. In this context, today we will see the refugee policy of India.
Indian Refugee Policy
Albeit, there is no specific legislation to address the problem of refugees in India, their numbers have steadily increased.
The Foreigners Act, 1946 fails to address the problems related to refugees. It also gives the Indian Government the ultimate power to deport any foreign national. Besides, the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), 2019 excludes Muslims and provides citizenship only to Hindus, Christians, Jains, Parsis, Sikhs and Buddhist migrants from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Apart from this, India is not a party to the Refugee Convention of 1951 and the major legal documents relating to refugee protection, the 1967 Protocol.
Despite not being in favour of the Refugee Convention of 1951 and the 1967 Protocol, refugees reside in India in very large numbers. India has a moral tradition of assimilating foreign people and culture. Moreover, the Constitution of India also respects the life, liberty and dignity of human beings.
In National Human Rights Commission v. State of Arunachal Pradesh (1996), the Supreme Court said that “all rights are available to citizens while the right to equality and right to life are available to individuals including foreign nationals”.
Why India did not sign Refugee Convention?
According to the 1951 Convention, the definition of refugees deals only with the violation of civil and political rights but not the economic rights of individuals.For example, under the definition of the convention, a person who is deprived of political rights can be considered a refugee but he/she is not considered a refugee in the event of deprivation of economic rights.If the definition of refugee included a violation of economic rights then it would place a huge economic burden on the world.
On the other hand, the argument that if this provision is used in the South Asian context, economic, political and social problems may also arises for India.
Issues with India’s Refugee Policy
In recent times, many people from neighbouring countries come to India illegally not because of state persecution but in search of better economic opportunities in India.Whereas the reality is that most of the debate in the country is about illegal migrants rather than refugees, in which case both the categories are usually integrated.
Due to this, clarity in policies and measures to deal with these issues as well as lack of policy utility should be removed.
Another challenge is ambiguity in the Framework. The main reason for our policies towards illegal immigrants and refugees is that according to Indian law, people of both categories are considered equal and are covered under the Foreigners Act, 1946.The absence of such a legal framework also leads to policy ambiguity leading to India’s refugee policy being guided primarily by ad-hocism. Ad hoc measures enable the government to accept a specific type of refugees in the country for political or geopolitical reasons.This leads to discriminatory action which is a type of human rights violation.
The Government of India has passed the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). The CAA envisages granting citizenship to religious minorities and state-abused people in India’s neighbourhood. However, CAA is not primarily the cause of the refugee problem because of its deeply discriminatory nature and that a particular religion is not included within its purview. Many political analysts view CAA as an act of refugees avoidance, not refugee protection.
Although India is not in favour of the Refugee Convention of 1951 and the 1967 Protocol, India has been one of the largest recipients of refugees in the world. However, if there was a domestic law regarding refugees in India, it could have given a window to any oppressive government in neighbouring countries to persecute their citizens and the possibility of their migration to India.