- GS-2: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation
- GS-2: Rights and Freedoms
India needs a refugee and asylum law
Context: This month Congress MP Shashi Tharoor introduced a Private Member’s Bill in the Lok Sabha proposing the enactment of a Refugee and Asylum law.
- The Bill lays down comprehensive criteria for recognising asylum seekers and refugees and prescribes specific rights and duties accruing from such status.
- It was made necessary as the government doesn’t recognise the international legal principle of non-refoulement — the cornerstone of refugee law, which states that no country should send a person to a place where he or she may face persecution
Who is a refugee?
- Refugee, in the internationally-accepted definition of the term, embraces people who have fled their home countries and crossed an international border because of a well-founded fear of persecution in their home countries, on grounds of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.
- This means that people who cross borders in quest of economic betterment, or because they are fleeing poverty, anarchy or environmental disaster, do not qualify as refugees.
Do You Know?
- India hosts more than two lakh refugees and is at the center of refugee movements in the South Asian region.
- It has been a home to refugees from neighbouring countries such as Tibet, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Myanmar, and Nepal.
- In 1996, the Supreme Court of India ruled that the state has to protect all human beings living in India, irrespective of nationality, since they enjoy the rights guaranteed by Articles 14, 20 and 21 of the Constitution to all, not just Indian citizens.
Recent instances of Government’s handling of Refugees
- The Government expelled Myanmar two batches of Rohingya refugees in the face of a grave risk of persecution in the country they had fled.
- It has attempted to do the same with Chakmas in Arunachal Pradesh and Myanmarese in Mizoram.
- Also, Afghan students stranded in India by the takeover of their country by the Taliban have not had their visas renewed, and could find themselves in a similar situation.
- Because India has neither subscribed to international conventions on the topic nor set up a domestic legislative framework to deal with refugees, their problems are dealt with in an ad hoc manner.
What are the key features of the proposed bill?
- The proposed bill seeks to incorporate the current policy on refugees, the principles of the Constitution, and India’s international obligations.
- The right to seek asylum in India would be available to all foreigners irrespective of their nationality, race, religion, or ethnicity.
- National Commission for Asylum would be constituted to receive and decide all such applications.
- The principle of non-refoulement is clearly affirmed, with no exceptions, though reasons have been specified for exclusion, expulsion, and revocation of refugee status, to respect the Government’s sovereign authority but limit its discretion.
- Need for proper framework to make sure that refugees can access basic public services, be able to legally seek jobs and livelihood opportunities for some source of income.
- The absence of such a framework will make the refugees vulnerable to exploitation, especially human trafficking.
Merits of the bill
- The provisions of the bill provide clarity and uniformity on the recognition of asylum seekers as refugees and their rights in the country.
- It also seeks to end a system of ambiguity and arbitrariness which, too often, results in injustice to a highly vulnerable populace
- The bill seeks to enable the government to manage refugees with more accountability and order while balancing humanitarian concerns and security interests of the State.
- The enactment and enumeration of refugee rights will reduce our dependence on judge-centric approaches — or the whims of Home Ministry bureaucrats, police officers and politicians.
- It is high time the Government reviewed its long-standing reluctance to sign up legally to what India has already been doing morally.
- In so doing, we would uphold our own finest traditions and the highest standards of our democracy, as well as demonstrate once again that we are what we have long claimed to be: a good international citizen in an ever-closer knit and globalising world.
Connecting the dots: