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Who is a Refugee?

A person who has been forced to flee his/her country because of persecution, war, or violence

UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugee, 1951

Refugee- A person who is outside his/her country of nationality or habitual residence; fears persecution because of his/her race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion; and is unable or unwilling to avail himself/herself of the protection of that country, or to return there, for fear of persecution.
  • Outlines a refugee’s rights such as freedom of religion and movement, the right to work, education and accessibility to travel documents

  • Principle of Refoulement: Refugees should not be returned (refouled) to a country where he/she fears persecution.

  • India is not a signatory to the 1951 UN refugee convention or its 1967 Protocol.

India and the United Nations Convention

In the past, India has welcomed refugees, and about 300,000 people are currently classified as refugees in the country. However, neither the 1951 UN Convention nor the 1967 Protocol is signed by India. India too lacks a refugee policy and a refugee statute of its own. The Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019, is the closest India has got to a refugee policy in recent years.

India has always justified its position by emphasising the dangers to its sovereignty, territorial integrity, and security. We have a disputed and porous border, which exacerbates pre-existing tensions. Humanitarianism sounds admirable, but it should not be pursued at the expense of national security. In international fora, realism is the default setting.

This has allowed India to keep its options open in the refugee crisis. The government can proclaim any group of refugees to be illegal immigrants, as it did with the Rohingya despite UNHCR verification, and treat them as trespassers under the Foreigners Act or the Indian Passport Act.

Contemporary Concerns:

Afghanistan is in the midst of a huge humanitarian crisis following the departure of American forces from the nation. Many Afghans have fled the nation since the Taliban seized power following the fall of the Afghan government. A number of nations, including India, have committed to accepting Afghan refugees and giving them with safe haven. In August 2021, India began issuing an electronic visa known as the "e-Emergency X-Misc. Visa" to Afghan nationals interested in visiting the country. Nearly 60,000 Afghan people have applied for the new visa since its inception. After completing a security clearance, the visas will be processed and valid for six months.

Emergency e-visas for Afghan nationals are a commendable gesture at this time of dire need. The e-visa project appears to be a first step in fulfilling India's neighbourly responsibilities as an important ally and neighbour to Afghanistan.

Inconsistency is blamed on India since it treats refugees from different countries differently. In the savage global sphere, nobody is going to look out for India but India itself. As a sovereign nation, we have the freedom to choose how we want to steer our policies in the face of changing circumstances.


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