Even as India continues to house the largest refugee population in the South Asian region, its failure to create a domestic framework for safeguarding their interests still poses a question.
The reasons are aplenty but the need is severely felt as human sufferings mount daily while justice drags its feet. Several countries plead insufficient resources for sealing their borders for the refugees, but India has proved to be a haven, ideal or not is debatable.
In 1960s when Tibetans came to India they were granted a Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) in the city of Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh and were subsequently given lands to establish farming settlements, contrary to the law that foreigners cannot own property in India.
On the other hand, there are over 1,800 Rohingya muslims living in Hyderabad, pathetically languishing at the hands of the officials, being denied even their Refugee certificates and living in shanties with amenities lower than slum settlements.
Such inconsistency of actions by the government ascertain the fact that some refugees enjoy more benefits than others due to India’s strategic relations with certain countries.
Lack of a uniform domestic law thus seeds discrepancy and leads to a deeply predatory environment for asylum-seekers, as in the case of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar.
Refugees worldwide are governed under the norms laid by the United Nations High Commissioner For Refugees (UNHCR), that encompasses standards on welfare, employment, health, education, travel, identity papers, right to association among others.
UN member States that sign the 1952 Refugee Convention or the 1967 Protocol are bound by certain regulations that are put in place to ensure refugees live a life of dignity.
India has not yet signed any convention and might not in the future either, as it argues that the set of policies put forward are largely Euro-centric and cannot be effectively implemented by developing nations.
Therefore, refugees do not come under the purview of its government rather are looked after by UNHCR itself, that has offices in Delhi and Chennai.
Recently, India has been on the receiving end of a lot of flak globally for sealing its borders and deporting some refugees back, the fundamental reason for such extreme steps has been UNHCR’s incompetency in fulfilling its duties efficiently.
The UN commission is liable for rehabilitating the refugees, reimbursing health costs incurred in government hospitals, ensuring education ,giving a sustenance allowance to make them self sufficient and most importantly granting them the refugee status.
Several newspapers reported that the commission is finding it difficult to furnish its duties towards the asylum-seekers and it became apparent after a report was published by the US Committee for Refugees citing that out of nearly 4 lakh refugees only 19,000 have been granted the refugee status and protection under the UN convention.
Cases emerged where refugees couldn’t find work due to their lack of presenting identity proofs or residential permits, as commission’s cumbersome procedures would often leave them in dismay. Even children are deprived of education as government schools either lack the awareness for admitting refugee children or ask for refugee IDs or residential proofs.
Subsequently, India orchestrated its reasons that as a developing nation, it cannot be expected to solely shoulder the responsibility of such a large alien population as it not financially or culturally prepared for it.
One cannot rule out the possibility of clashes on the lines of ethnicity as seen in 2012 Assam violence when the indigenous groups lashed out against the Muslim Bangladeshi migrants, whom they feared would take over their culture due to the rising Islamic fundamentalism. Over 200 people were reported dead and several unaccounted for exiled.
India takes pride on its diverse and rich culture, if the alien population brings with itself a danger to the country’s foundation then it poses a riddle.
Moreover, there is always an added threat of a militant cell seeking refuge in the country, given its hostile relations with neighbours like Pakistan.
UNHCR is expected to meet the rising demands for proper livelihood of the refugees and until it does, India cannot sign the international convention because then it will see even greater influx than now and the country’s limited resources will only decay matters.
Therefore, India’s reasons for not acceding to the international convention are justified but it still needs to bring forth a domestic regulation for the asylum-seekers so that they are not unjustly dealt with and can be protected against exploitation by the hands of officials and unrelenting citizens.