Baba’s Explainer – UK-Rwanda plan for Asylum seekers & India’s Refugee Issue

  • IASbaba
  • June 17, 2022
  • 0
International Relations
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  • GS-2: Human Rights
  • GS-2: Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries

Context: The first flight scheduled to deport asylum seekers from the United Kingdom to Rwanda as part of the UK-Rwanda plan was cancelled on 14 June.

  • The cancellation occurs just one day after a court in London crushed frantic attempts by human rights groups and campaigners to stop the British government from executing the plan. A high court judge declined to grant a temporary injunction to prevent the flight and the Court of Appeal upheld the decision.
  • Additionally, there was second legal challenge in the high court. But that was also rejected, arguing that everyone on the flight had been provided a lawyer to challenge the UK government’s decision to fly them out.
  • A full hearing regarding the legality of the UK-Rwanda plan is due in July.

Who is a refugee? Who is an asylum seeker?
  • 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.
  • The risks to their safety and life were so great that they felt they had no choice but to leave and seek safety outside their country because their own government cannot or will not protect them from those dangers. Refugees have a right to international protection.
  • An asylum-seeker is a person who has left their country and is seeking protection from persecution and serious human rights violations in another country, but who hasn’t yet been legally recognized as a refugee and is waiting to receive a decision on their asylum claim. Seeking asylum is a human right. This means everyone should be allowed to enter another country to seek asylum.
Why was the background for UK-Rwanda deal?
  • Since 2018, there has been a marked rise in the number of refugees and asylum seekers to UK that undertake dangerous crossings between Calais in France and Dover in England.
  • The number of such persons rose from 297 in 2018, to 28,431 in 2021.
  • Most such migrants and asylum seekers hail from war-torn countries like Sudan, Afghanistan, and Yemen, or developing countries like Iran and Iraq.
  • All these has caused immigration crisis for conservative UK government where there was pressure to come out with some sort of long term solution for the problem.
What Does the Plan Say?
  • Under the UK-Rwanda deal, people who arrive in the UK “illegally” will be taken straight to Rwanda, where they will be assessed for resettlement.
  • Rwanda will function as the holding centre where asylum applicants will wait while the Rwandan government makes decisions about their asylum and resettlement petitions in Rwand
  • In return, the UK will pay the Rwandan government £120 million to house the migrants and integrate them into Rwandan society.
    • Currently, the U.K. pays £4.7 million per day to accommodate approximately 25,000 asylum seekers. At the end of 2021, this amounted to £430 million annually with a projected increase of £100 million in 2022
  • The initial segment of the scheme is supposed to last for five years.
  • The UK government says that the plan is mostly applicable to single, young migrants who came to the UK via “illegal, dangerous or unnecessary methods,” like small boats.
    • Rwanda will, on its part, accommodate anyone who is not a minor and does not have a criminal record.
  • Additionally, according to the plan, Rwanda would be responsible for the migrants’ access to employment and services.
  • A migrant in the U.K. will be given five days’ notice to pursue an appeals process, failing which they will be given a one-way ticket to Rwanda and will become the responsibility of the Rwandan government.
  • The deal is “uncapped”,e., there is no upper limit to how many migrants will be sent to Rwanda for the five years that the deal will remain in place.
What Is the UK Government's Justification?
  • The rationale for the deal, according to the U.K., is to combat “people smugglers”, who often charge exorbitant prices from vulnerable migrants to put them on boats from France to England that often lead to mass drownings.
  • Prime Minister Boris Johnson has thrown his full support behind the plan.
    • PM Boris Johnson has stated that “We must first ensure… that those who tried to jump the queue or abuse our system will find no automatic path to settlement in our country but rather be swiftly and humanely removed to a safe third country or their country of origin,”
  • When asked about the plan around the same time, UK Home Secretary Priti Patel had said that the migrants “will be given the support including up to five years of training, integration, accommodation, health care, so that they can resettle and thrive.”
  • It is expected that such kind of deal is going to create deterrence to people who are crossing the border illegally & entering the country.
What are the criticisms of the deal?

• Dangerous Precedent: UK is sending a very wrong message to other ‘rich’ countries which asylum seekers turn to for refuge. The precedent that this creates is catastrophic for a concept that needs to be shared, like asylum
• Still entails financial cost: The Rwanda Deal is predicted to reduce the costs of UK by outsourcing the hosting of such migrants to a third country. However, opposition argue that the burden of such costs will eventually fall on the British taxpayer.
• Protection of Rights not guaranteed: The deal doesn’t outline the economic right to work, access to healthcare or any financial support provided by the Rwandan government to relocated persons.
• Doesn’t solve the problem: It remains unclear if the Rwanda Deal will solve the problem of unlawful crossings. Evidence from similar experiences indicates that such policies do not fully combat “people smuggling”. To address the problem of illegal crossings, the conflict in source countries needs to be resolved through financial aids & supportive measures. This erodes the need for fleeing away from one’s home & seeking refuge in another country.
• Can be Counterproductive: People who are already vulnerable when they attempted dangerous sea-crossings will become more exposed and vulnerable under detention.
• Bad Track Record: Rwanda doesn’t have remarkable human rights record. Government critics have been silenced or sentenced to prison. Further, Rwanda’s similar offshoring deal with Israel was scrapped in 2019.
• Shifting & not solving of the Issue: The Rwanda Deal is an instrument that will certainly generate revenue for the Rwandan government. It just transfers a British issue onto a less developed nation in order to pander to the anti-immigrant sentiments in the U.K.

Is the Deterrence Strategy Working?

• The plan was unveiled by the British government on 14 April.
• Between 18 April and 5 June, however, 3,599 asylum seekers have arrived in small boats, according to the UK Ministry of Defence.
• While this is less than the 4,554 people who arrived during the same time last year as per BBC, the total figure for the whole year is likely to go up when the numbers become available.
• In all of 2021, 28,526 people crossed in small boats, and that number will increase in 2022, according to Border Force union officials.

Does India have a refugee problem?
  • Myanmarese citizens, including little children fleeing from a Myanmar’s military, being turned away at the Indian border in the Northeast, during 2020-21, is the latest example of refugee tension in India.
  • India continues to be a generous host to refugees and asylum seekers since time immemorial and many refugee communities have thrived in the country. Welcoming refugees lies at the core of India’s secular, spiritual and cultural values. 
    • Through its history, India has hosted people fleeing war, conflict and persecution many times — Zoroastrians from Iran, Bengalis during 1971 Bangladesh liberation, Sri Lankans in the 1980s or Afghans during varied waves of displacement.
  • At present, India hosts more than two lakh refugees and is at the center of refugee movements in the South Asian region. India has been a home to refugees from neighbouring countries such as Tibet, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Myanmar, and Nepal.
  • India spent over USD 14.2 million to cover the humanitarian needs of vulnerable individuals in 2021. This support was provided to vulnerable refugees and host communities in different forms, through monthly basic needs, cash assistance, COVID-19 emergency assistance, food, and other core relief items.
  • Whatever be the considerations of refugees seeking a sanctuary — economic, demographic, security, or political — India has been adept in managing complications that result from such situations.
  • 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.
  • However, recent instances of Government’s handling of Refugees has raised concerns from certain quarters
    • 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 issues with regard to India’s handling of Refugees?
  • Lacks Refugee Framework: Despite being a welcoming country, India does not have a national refugee framework.
  • Ad-Hoc Measures: Interventions on refugee assistance in India have largely depended on interim policies and administrative decisions. As a result, some groups of refugees have benefitted from holistic support and solutions, others have fallen behind.
  • Missing on Soft Power: India has not codified our interventions in asylum management, so that they can be showcased globally.
  • Not a bureaucratic Exercise: Treatment of refugees is an important national security consideration that cannot be relegated to a bureaucratic exercise as it is currently
Is there a need for Refugee law in India?
  • Having a proper legislation seeks to end a system of ambiguity and arbitrariness which, too often, results in injustice to a highly vulnerable populace
  • It also enable the government to manage refugees with more accountability and order while balancing humanitarian concerns and security interests of the State.
  • A sustainable refugee policy is a necessary step to intelligently manage population movements and ensure transparency and predictability in our administrative actions.
  • A national refugee management law will be in keeping with India’s leadership role in the region and amongst developing nations.
  • The legislation will clarify the roles of different agencies — governmental, judicial, UN — involved in refugee protection and lay down the procedures of coordination amongst them.
  • 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 would also help avoid friction between the host country and the country of origin.
  • Other states would recognise the move to grant asylum as a peaceful, humanitarian and legal act, and not an arbitrary political gesture.
  • It will also provide a platform for dialogue on sharing responsibility and aid the search for durable solutions to the root causes of a refugee problem.
  • Some countries provide initial help to refugees, after which they are expected to fend for themselves. A few countries have treated refugees like charity cases. Finding the right balance between the two is what a national refugee law can help achieve.
Was there an attempt to introduce refugee law in India?
  • Recently, in Feb 2022, Congress MP Shashi Tharoor introduced a Private Member’s Bill in the Lok Sabha proposing the enactment of a Refugee and Asylum law.
  • 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
  • The Bill lays down comprehensive criteria for recognising asylum seekers and refugees and prescribes specific rights and duties accruing from such status.
  • Key Features of the bill are
    • 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.
  • However, the bill has not been passed by the Parliament.

Mains Practice Question – What are the issues with regard to India’s handling of Refugees? Is there a need for India to have a refugee law?

Note: Write answers to this question in the comment section.


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