|Demand of the question Introduction. Contextual introduction. Body. Discuss India’s policy on refugees. Mention how India should tackle the Rohingya crisis? Conclusion. Way forward.|
According to UNHCR, a refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war or violence. In India, the provisions of the Constitution mainly govern the law relating to citizenship or nationality. The Constitution of India provides for single citizenship for the entire country. While law and order is a State subject under the Indian Constitution, international relations and international borders are under the exclusive purview of the Union government. Thus, all policies governing refugees are laid down by the Union government.
India’s policy on refugees:
- Principle of non-refoulement: While India is not a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention, 1951, India has followed the principle of non-refoulement whenever helpless asylum seekers have knocked on its doors.
- Internal matter: India has not signed the 1967 Protocol and has always maintained it is its internal matter. The Convention requires the signatory nation to accord a minimum standard of hospitality and housing towards those it accepts as refugees. The porous nature of borders in South Asia, continuous demographic changes, poverty, resource crunch, and internal political discontent made it impossible for India to accede to the Protocol.
- Ad hoc refugee policy: India’s refugee policy can be termed as ad hoc refugee policy that allows New Delhi to differentiate between different groups in its treatment toward refugees and put other interests over humanitarian concerns.
- Open borders policy: India has a history of welcoming refugees as a means of projecting its relative strength and security as the economic powerhouse of South Asia. In the past, the country maintained relatively open borders. The two most notable groups in this category are Tibetans (leader- Dalai Lama) and Sri Lankans, collectively numbering over 150,000.
- Legal tenets: Under various laws and provisions, India provides citizenship to many under special circumstances. These are NRC Assam, Citizenship amendment act, 1955 and 2019. There are some laws that govern refugees, including the Registration of Foreigners Act, 1939; Foreigners Act, 1946, and the Passport Act, 1967. Recently, Rohingya crisis and CAA, 2019 has been criticised for not including Muslims of some countries to provide early citizenship benefits.
How should India tackle the Rohingya crisis?
- Resettlement: Resettlement efforts must be made with the Myanmar from which Rohingya are moving out. India has extended 7,000 tonne of relief assistance for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. This was followed by a $25-million development programme to help Myanmar build the necessary infrastructure to rehabilitate Rohingya in the troubled Rakhine State.
- Working with neighbours: India must keep continuing work with other neighbouring countries like Bangladesh so that the refugee influx is better managed and does not cause a permanent strain on the resources. For instance, under Operation Insaniyat, India has provided aid to Bangladesh. This aid is given to improve the situation of Rohingya in Cox’s Bazar region of Bangladesh.
- Balancing human rights: The Supreme Court has urged the Indian administration to strike a balance between human rights and national security interests but not stayed the administration’s deportation plans. Thus, India should ensure that human rights are not violated and must provide health, food and temporary shelter to Rohingya.
- Identity cards: As Myanmar-India have strong cultural ties, India should take proactive steps in solving the situation. India may introduce identity cards for refugees so as to allow them temporary relief and enhancing India’s security.
The absence of a framework on refugees in India makes it prone to inconsistent and ad-hoc reactions to refugee crises. In order to frame a robust refugee policy, it is essential to examine the cause that gives rise to this migration like unstable political environments, insurgencies by non-state actors etc.