REFUGEES IN INDIA: POLICY AND PROTECTION
Since India became an independent country, Government has recognised legal immigrants from only Tibet and Sri Lanka as refugees from the past, providing free education and identification documentation to the former.
When the Dalai Lama and his followers fled to India in 1959, India had to deal with another refugee inundation.The Dalai Lama and his followers were given political asylum by the Indian government. Another refugee crisis that our nation had to deal with was in 1971, when ten million East Pakistanis migrated to India. India was compelled to offer shelter to the refugees due to its humanitarian obligations.
After Citizenship amendment Bill 2019 was passed on 12 December 2019 in the Parliament of India migrants that came as refugees from persecuted minority communities like Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians from neighbouring Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan before 31/12/2014 would be eligible for Indian citizenship, except Muslims, who constitute the majority of the three countries. It would also relax the requirements for residents to become eligible for citizenship from 11 years to 6 years. The current Indian nationality law largely follows the jus sanguinis (citizenship by descent) as opposed to the jus soli (citizenship by right of birth within the territory.
There has been concern raised at the lack of inclusion of several Non-Muslim countries around India in the Citizenship Bill, such as Sri Lanka, over whom Shiv Sena and several religious figures have raised concern over the citizenship status of Tamil speaking Hindus who were allowed to legally settle in the state of Tamilnadu due to previous discrimination on the island, Nepal and Bhutan the latter of which is accused of discriminating against Hindus through a Buddhist-only society. Tibetans refugees from China are also excluded from the bill despite being an ongoing concern.
Indian Nationality Law is governed by the Citizenship Act (Articles 5 to 11 of the constitution of India) which was passed in 1955 included a National Register of Citizens (NRC). Further Citizenship (Amendment) Acts were passed in 1986, 1992, 2003, 2005, 2015 and 2019. India has 40,000 Rohingya refugees at present, out of which only 16,500 are registered with the UNHCR. These refugees reside across the country, with some 5,000 living in the northern Jammu and Kashmir region. The Hindu-nationalist government has for years asked regional authorities to identify and deport them.
Several refugees have found asylum in India. Numerous legislative acts were passed and released in favour of these refugees under the Indian Constitution’s Seventh Schedule. However, in the current setting, some of the initiatives have lost their significance.
Following India’s partition and before the Indian Constitution took effect, the following legislations were enacted:
- East Punjab Evacuees (Administration of Property) Act, 1947
- UP Land Acquisition (Rehabilitation of Refugees) Act, 1948
- East Punjab Refugees (Registration of Land Claims) Act, 1948
- Mysore Administration of Evacuee Property (Emergency) Act, 1949
- Mysore Administration of Evacuee Property (Second Emergency) Act, 1949
Following the implementation of the Indian Constitution, the following acts relating to refugees, evacuees, and displaced persons were passed:
Immigrants (Expulsion from Assam) Act, 1950
- Administration of Evacuee Property Act, 1950
- Evacuee Interest (Separation) Act, 1951
- Displaced Persons (Debts Adjustment) Act, 1951
- Influx from Pakistan (Control) Repelling Act, 1952
- Displaced Persons (Claims) Supplementary Act, 1954
- Displaced Persons (Compensation & Rehabilitation) Act, 1954
Various countries have enacted refugee laws based on internationally accepted principles to protect their refugees. The countries that have signed the convention have developed a protocol for recognising refugees and dealing with their security concerns.
By offering naturalization, providing land and/or permitting legal employment, governments of both asylum countries and resettlement countries have offered a lasting solution to the problems of those refugees who could not be assured protection in their home countries or in their country of first asylum.
Despite the fact that India has not ratified the convention, it protects refugees. However, there is still a lack of continuity in the process for assessing refugees. There is no central body that deals with refugees in India because there is no uniform code for deciding refugee status. After so many years, there are still a number of holes in the system for coping with refugee policy. This is due to the government’s failure to pass a refugee bill.