Issue of Refugees in India – Explained, Pointwise


A Mizoram based, Zo Reunification Organisation (ZORO) petitioned the Prime Minister to impose sanctions on current military-ruled Myanmar. It is also demanding to shelter the refugees from Myanmar on Humanitarian grounds.

However, recently, the Ministry of Home Affairs communicated to four Northeast states bordering Myanmar to maintain strict vigil and not allow anyone to enter India illegally. The Ministry of Home Affairs(MHA) also mentioned criteria to accept refugees in an absolutely essential situation, on humanitarian grounds. In this article, we will explain the issue of refugees in India.

About the recent Refugee issue with Myanmar

After the coup in Myanmar, widespread civil disobedience movements(CDM) are taking place all over Myanmar. The Military ruled Myanmar is following stringent methods to curb the protests like shooting the public, night raid on protesters home, etc. Myanmar shares a 1,643-km-long border with Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram.

So, Many people in Myanmar and the security forces who support the CDM started fleeing the country. The majority of these people entered India through the international borders in Mizoram and Manipur. Earlier Myanmar also wrote letters to Mizoram and asked the Indian government to return the 8 Cops who fled the country for various reasons.

The Mizo people of Mizoram and the Kuki-Zomi communities in Manipur maintain close kinship with the people of Myanmar. Mizoram Chief Minister earlier announced that his government would provide shelter and other relief to the Myanmar refugees.

But recently the MHA has issued few directives to the State Governments and UTs. In that, the MHA mentioned that the state governments have no powers to grant ‘refugee’ status to any foreigner. Further, the ministry also pointed out that India is not a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention of 1951 and its 1967 Protocol. So the MHA wants the state governments to perform strict surveillance on borders.

Few important terminologies:

Who is a refugee?

A refugee is a person who fled his country due to the risk of serious human rights violations and persecution there. These refugees have a right to international protection under the UN Refugee Convention and its protocol.

Who is an asylum-seeker?

An asylum seeker is someone who claims to be a refugee but whose claim hasn’t been evaluated. An asylum seeker will turn into a refugee if the claim is evaluated and justified.

Refugee Status Determination (RSD) is a legal process used by governments or UNHCR(UN High Commission for Refugees) to determine the refugee status of an asylum seeker under international, national or regional law.

Who is a migrant?

Migrants are persons moving to another country not due to direct threat or persecution but due to improving their lives. Migrants can return home if they wish(But refugees and asylum seekers cannot).

Legal Framework for Refugees in India
  1. Article 51 of the Indian constitution: This provision states that the state shall endeavour to foster respect for international law and treaty obligations in the dealings of organized people with one another.
  2. As per the Citizenship Act of 1955, an illegal immigrant can be of two types.
    • Foreign national enters into India with valid travel documents but stays beyond their validity, or
    • Foreign national entered India without any valid travel documents.
  3. As per, the Foreigners Act, 1946, the central government have the right to deport any foreign national.
  4. Apart from that, India is also not a signatory to the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention and the 1967 UN refugee Protocol.
  5. Further, India does not have any national law on refugees.
  6. While law and order is a State subject, international relations and international borders are under the Union government. This has resulted in, both the Centre and the State government agencies, dealing with the refugee problem in India.
  7. In 2011, the Union government circulated a Standard Operating Procedure to deal with foreign nationals who claim to be refugees.
  8. The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 aims to provide citizenship to those who sheltered in India for religious persecution or fear of persecution in their home countries. But the Act only covers the Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
  9. So, India at present, does not have any separate law to govern refugees. The refugee matters at present dealt with on a case by case basis.
Challenges with the refugees
  1. Social consequences of permitting refugees: By permitting refugees India might face many social consequences. Such as,
    • Refugees might create an identity crisis with the indigenous people. For example, the refugees from Bangladesh currently in Assam and Arunachal threatens to overtake the indigenous population of the region.
    • Difficult to identify and deport them back to their country after a few years. For example, the illegal migrants from Bangladesh and Rohingya refugees entered through North-East. But later they spread to all other states, like Haryana, Kerala, Telangana and UTs like Jammu and Kashmir, Delhi, etc. Identifying them among more than a billion Indians is a great challenge.
  2. Economic consequence of permitting refugees:
    • Increased financial responsibility of the state. According to the UNHCR report in 2014, there were more than 200,000 refugees in India. There are millions of illegal immigrants in India. India at present does not have the financial capacity to satisfy all their basic needs.
    • Decreases wage level and replace the native people. Since illegal immigrants and refugees require food and shelter, they also work at very low wages in their settling areas.  It impacts the lives of locals, as they don’t get adequate jobs.
  3. Political consequence of permitting refugees:
    • Issue of illegal voting: The illegal migrants to avail the benefits, procure illegal national identity cards such as voter id. By procuring that, they also vote in elections and influence the outcome.
    • Issue of terrorism: These refugees, since not accepted by governments, are vulnerable to join Pakistani based terror outfits for work and revenue.
  1. India should encourage the State governments to carry out the NRC (National Register of Citizens) and identify the number of refugees and illegal immigrants.
  2. The Central Government should appoint a National Immigration Commission to frame a National Migration Policy and a National Refugee Policy for India.
  3. The government have to strengthen the Foreigners Act 1946 and also sign bilateral agreements with neighbourhood countries regarding deportation.
  4. Further, the state governments have to follow the MHA guidelines of 2018 to identify illegal immigrants. The recommendations are,
    • Restrictions of Illegal Migrants specific locations as per provisions of law
    • Capturing their biographic and biometric particulars
    • Cancellation of fake Indian documents
    • Initiating legal proceedings including deportation proceedings as per provisions of law
  5. Strengthening the borders: India also needs to strengthen the border areas as the borders are porous and the neighbourhood countries are facing political vulnerabilities constantly. India can improve border surveillance, exploring the options of border fencing and smart walls, etc.

India is facing the issue of illegal immigrants right since independence. It is high time for India to define a clear-cut refugee policy. This will not only prevent the state governments from taking a different stand from that of the centre. But also prevent India from the large influx of illegal immigrants.

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