Refugee Crisis in India: All You Need to Know

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Home to millions of refugees, India lacks a legal framework, leading to policy ambiguity and discriminatory action.

An estimate by The World Bank shows that the magnitude of internal migration is two and a half times of international migration.

In 1951, the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) got established. At that time, there was an estimate of 1 million refugees under the UN mandate.

Today this figure has increased to 21+ million. India alone is home to 2.44 lakh refugees and asylum seekers.

As per the International Labour Organisation, almost half a million Nepali immigrants reside in India.

The Indian government does not maintain any records of refugees and blames it on their clandestine movement.

According to the officials, since such foreign nationals enter the country without any valid travel document covertly, their data is not maintained.

Who Is a Refugee?

A refugee is a person who runs off their country owing to the risks to their safety and life.

The person has a well-founded fear of prosecution because of their race, religion, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.

The threats to their safety and life were so significant that they had no choice but to leave their country and seek protection outside the country.

Their government cannot or will not protect them from the dangers they faced while in the country.

Challenges Refugees Face in India

India’s administrative policy on refugees has created massive confusion.

The system contributed to a lack of awareness and misinformation among legal duty bearers causing high levels of insecurity for refugee communities.

According to UNHCR, the Indian government has different standards of protection and assistance among other refugee groups.

Being a non-signatory of the 1951 Convention, Indian authorities do not recognize the UNHCR-issued documents.

Owing to the absence of any domestic law for refugees, the refugees fall under the category of illegal migrants.

Given that they do not have a valid passport and visa for the duration of their stay, the humanitarian treatment accorded to the refugees is not recognized.

UNHCR issues a refugee card through the refugee determination process, which may take 20 months for evaluation.

Without that card, the person is likely to be arrested, detained and deported by the police of India.

Laws to Govern Refugees in India

India is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention nor its 1967 protocol.

India governs all the foreign nationals under the provisions contained in the Foreigners Act 1946, the Registration of the Foreigners Act 1939, the Passport Act 1920 and the Citizenship Act 1955.

The Passport Act prohibits the entry of the person not possessing a valid passport.

The Foreigners Act gives the power to the Government of India to detain a person until deported back to their country of origin.

If a refugee is found unfit to be granted a long-term visa, the government can consult UNHCR to resettle them to a third county and not send them back to their country of origin.

However, several reports on how refugees in India were sent back to their home countries without consultation with the UNHCR.

Taking care of the refugees is one of the core components of the human rights paradigm. Refugees’ inflow puts an economic burden on the state.

The refugee problem may trigger demographic changes in the long term and may pose risks to security. In any case, the refugee inflow to India is unlikely to end anytime soon.

There is an immediate need to clinically address the refugee protection issue in India and put in place appropriate legal and institutional measures.

Ankita Gautam
Ankita Gautam
Ankita Gautam aka AnkiTam, is an Educator, who learns by reading and expresses by writing. She has been an avid reader, writer, speaker, learner, and observer ever since. A science background could never stop her from grasping the nitty-gritties of fashion, technology, and trending news. She finds her solace in magazines and newspapers. Being an ambivert, she is blessed to be flexible in knowing when to talk and when to listen. She is an opinionated personality with an optimal level of compassion and empathy. She can be easily found entertaining people with her wordplays and also with her wry sense of humor. She is a pantomath, who wants to know everything.

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