UPSC Editorial Analysis

Refugee Problem in India

GS Paper 3 - International Agreements and Treaties, Internal Security


Over 43.4 million people are refugees around the world, and the number is growing as global wars continue. In this setting, India’s reaction to refugees is influenced by its historical experiences, humanitarian concerns, and diplomatic connections with neighboring countries.

Since its independence in 1947, India has experienced multiple waves of forced migration from neighboring countries, requiring the country to implement a complicated and developing refugee policy. Addressing this problem necessitates a thorough assessment of India’s refugee policy, as well as a renewed focus on a strategic plan for becoming an effective country in managing the situation.

Refugee Crisis India and its Causes

  • Refugees are people who have fled their native countries due to serious threats to their life, physical safety, or freedom and need international protection. These threats can come from persecution, armed conflict, violence, or widespread public upheaval in their own country. 
  • The term “refugee” has no legal definition in India because the country has not signed the 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol. Because India has not recognized the international criteria and standards stated in the Refugee Convention, there is no legal framework or definition of refugees under Indian law. 
  • India shares borders with several nations that have undergone political unrest, civil wars, and ethnic conflicts, resulting in huge displacement of people. Natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes, and cyclones have also led to the displacement of people, forcing them to seek sanctuary in India. 
  • India’s dedication to humanitarian principles, as well as its record of offering shelter to individuals escaping persecution and violence, have contributed to the country’s ability to accommodate migrants. 
  • India’s lengthy and porous borders with neighboring countries, along with the lack of a clear refugee policy, have made it difficult to properly manage and regulate the influx of migrants.

Why is India not a signatory to 1951 Refugee Convention?

  • Discriminatory Definition –  The 1951 Convention defines refugees as those who have lost their civil and political rights but not their economic rights. India feels that this definition is excessively limited, as it excludes those who have abandoned their home countries due to economic hardship or a lack of employment prospects. 
  • Eurocentrism – India perceives the 1951 Refugee Convention as being largely Eurocentric focusing primarily on the concerns and situations prevalent in Europe at the time of its drafting. The convention does not adequately address the specific challenges and contexts faced by south asian countries like India when it comes to refugee influxes and cross-border movements.  
  • National Security Concerns – India’s signing of the pact raises concerns about its sovereignty and authority to restrict foreign nationals’ admission and stay within its territory. Some are concerned that joining the convention will have an impact on India’s domestic laws and policies on national security and border control. 
  • Lack of Resources – India has claimed low resources and weak infrastructure as reasons for not signing the convention, claiming that it will be unable to give the necessary degree of support and protection to a significant number of refugees. 
  • Issues with Potential Misuse – There are concerns that economic migrants or those with ulterior motivations will use the convention’s provisions, causing possible security issues. There have been reports that certain Rohingya people had ties to extremist organizations; during the Sri Lankan civil war, there were suspicions that some LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) militants may have reached India disguised as refugees.

Future Strategy to tackle Refugee Crisis in India

  • Upholding Non-Refoulment – Non-refoulement is a key tenet of international refugee law that bans states from returning asylum seekers to countries where they will face persecution and torture. While India is not a member to the UN Refugee Convention, it has long upheld the concept of non-refoulement. This principle should be upheld across boundaries. 
  • Diplomatic Engagement and International Cooperation – India’s Operation Insaniyat, which provides help to Rohingya in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar, exhibits this strategy. India has offered a $25 million development assistance package for Myanmar’s Rakhine State, where thousands of Rohingya Muslims fled following acts of brutality against their community. 
  • Balancing Security and Humanitarian Concerns –  To comply with Supreme Court instructions, India must strike a difficult balance between national security concerns and humanitarian commitments. 
  • Women and Child Protection – Implement tailored programs for vulnerable groups. The UNHCR’s “Safe from the Start” initiative in Ethiopia, which focuses on reducing sexual and gender-based violence in refugee camps, is one model India might follow. 
  • Long-term Regional Strategy – Develop a regional strategy. The Comprehensive Plan of Action for Indochinese Refugees in the 1980s, which involved several Southeast Asian countries, could serve as a model for a long-term solution to the refugee situation.

Way Forward

The aforementioned measures have altered the legal and social situation for refugees in India, revealing the intricate interplay of humanitarian concerns, national security, and demographic considerations. Balancing its hospitality traditions with changing geopolitical realities is a significant challenge for politicians and society as a whole.

SOURCE: The Indian Express


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