Most South Asian countries, including India, do not have a national, regional or international policy for the protection of refugees. They also haven’t officially disclosed why there is no policy.
Over the past decades, though, many reasons have been inferred towards this peculiar South Asian behaviour. For instance, India’s reluctance to accept refugees could be attributed to the international community’s response to its call for assistance while dealing with lakhs of people who had arrived here after fleeing Bangladesh in 1971.
The 1947 population exchange
India’s Partition in 1947 witnessed one of the most historic and painful population exchanges in the world. Millions of people displaced from Pakistan found themselves in numerous refugee camps set up in Delhi, Punjab and Bengal, uncertain of their future and prospects in a newly created nation which was now their home.
The United Nations’ 1951 Refugee Convention, the only refugee instrument that existed at the time, had been created to accord protection to people displaced in the aftermath of World War II. The Convention’s Euro-centric nature was clear in its limitations – it was applicable to the events occurring in “Europe or elsewhere before 1 January 1951” and gave refugee status to someone “who has lost the protection of their state of origin or nationality”. This essentially meant that the 1951 Convention, in its original form, was only applicable to people who had fled a state-sponsored (or state-supported) persecution.
The Partition of India and the migration of 1947, while within the Convention’s timeline, did not fall into the category of ‘state-supported/sponsored persecution’. People who had migrated were forced to do so due to ‘social persecution’ instead of ‘state-sponsored persecution’ or ‘war’. The subsequent concerns of both India and Pakistan to attribute a more liberal meaning to the term ‘refugee’ in order to include internally displaced people or those displaced due to social rifts were rejected at the international level. This created an overall scepticism towards the 1951 Refugee Convention.
Expanding the Convention
The United Nations in 1967 eventually removed the dateline of 1 January 1951 in its ‘Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees’ keeping in view the “new refugee situations (that) have arisen since the Convention was adopted”.
India under Jawaharlal Nehru chose not to sign the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol due to the fear of international criticism and unnecessary interference in what it has always maintained is its “internal matter”. The Convention requires the signatory nation to accord a minimum standard of hospitality and housing towards those it accepts as refugees. Failure to provide the minimum continues to attract a lot of international criticism for host nations even today.
The porous nature of borders in South Asia, continuous demographic changes, poverty, resource crunch, and internal political discontent made it impossible for India to accede to the Protocol. American political scientist Myron Weiner, a known scholar on India, has said that signing the 1951 Convention or its Protocol would have meant allowing international scrutiny of ‘India’s internal security, political stability and international relations’.
The 1971 exodus
The military repression in then-East Pakistan led to an estimated 10 million people seeking refuge in India by the end of 1971. It created extraordinary problems for India, and it was realised that international assistance would be needed to cope with the massive refugee influx and prepare for their repatriation. The Indira Gandhi government was getting increasingly concerned about the drain of resources by refugees. The problem was compounded with a large number of refugees housed in 330 camps across Assam, Tripura and Meghalaya. As some researchers have previously noted, the problem was not only of the enormity of the exodus but also of where these camps were located. For example, camps in Tripura housed over nine lakh refugees against an indigenous population of 15 lakh. There was a heightened sense of crisis, which was worsened by the outbreak of cholera in the camps.
In May 1971, Hindustan Standard reported: “Many of the refugees are suffering from infectious diseases. Some 626 doctors and 60 refugee doctors are trying to cope with this overwhelming situation, aided by some 800 paramedical personnel. Over 2,700 beds have been added to the existing 42 hospitals, but what will the situation be tomorrow? On this day a further 100,000 refugees have arrived in the Nadia district alone.”
The Indira Gandhi government in New Delhi expected the international community to refund a major part of the expenses it was incurring by looking after a sick refugee population. The Permanent Representative of India at the United Nations, Samar Sen, requested international aid. In May 1971, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Sadruddin Aga Khan, made it clear that it would be unrealistic to expect the UN to bear full responsibility for the financial burden. Nevertheless, an appeal for assistance was launched, which resulted in a pledge for a measly US$70 million in aid. Aga Khan and then-UN Secretary-General U Thant decided that the UNHRC should act as the ‘focal point’ for the coordination of all UN assistance.
The absence of a direct aid commitment to the Indian government, coupled with Sadruddin Aga Khan’s visit to East Pakistan on the insistence of General Yaya Khan, made Indira Gandhi and the Congress party highly suspicious of the ‘neutral’ operations of the UN, making the Indian stance towards the International Refugee Regime even more sceptical.
UNHCR in India
The 1971 exodus continues to be a crucial event that determines India’s attitude towards the International Refugee Regime and the UNHCR’s own institutional constraints in dealing with massive population movements. However, since 1981, the UNHCR has been operational in India with a limited mandate of assisting the Indian government in its plans to support refugees and asylum-seekers.
The UNHCR works with the government, NGOs and civil societies to facilitate refugees and asylum-seekers in accessing public health, education and legal aid services. However, the policy on grant of refugee, asylum or temporary assistance to people displaced due to persecution in their home countries are determined by the Indian government through a bilateral or multilateral process with those countries, in line with its international relations policies.
Nevertheless, any decision of the Indian government to grant refugee or asylum status cannot be isolated from its international responsibility under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (of which India is a signatory). These international regimes coupled with the guidelines under the Constitution make it necessary for India to adopt a refugee policy that is non-discriminatory and includes everyone who has faced persecution, despite their nationality, religion, gender or place of birth.
And yet, as the Narendra Modi-led BJP government continues to talk of ‘infiltrators’ and amend the Citizenship Act to give shelter to non-Muslims from neighbouring countries, India, ironically, shows no enthusiasm to frame a refugee policy.
Dr Ritumbra Manuvie is a Postdoctoral Researcher at Transboundary Legal Studies, University of Groningen, The Netherlands. She is an expert in Humanitarian Law with a Ph.D from the University of Edinburgh where she conducted an ethno-legal study on the issues of governance of migration in Assam. Views are personal.
IOM launches open South America portal
Buenos Aires – IOM, the International Organization for Migration, this week launched the Open South America Portal, a web platform providing migrants and stakeholders in the region with access to reliable and timely information on human mobility restrictions and health and safety measures adopted by governments in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Open South America, available in Spanish, English and Portuguese, shares official information by country on the latest measures, including border restrictions, quarantine requirements and COVID-19 tests for migrants and travellers.
The portal also provides updated information on authorized entry points and key places for travellers and migrants, such as consulates, migrant care and health centres, airports, border crossings points and ports. This information can be explored through an interactive map.
The platform, funded by the IOM Development Fund, is also accessible to vulnerable migrants who may be stranded or are at risk of receiving misinformation on migration.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, South America has been one of the most impacted regions worldwide. According to the World Health Organization figures, as of 8 July 2021 there were 33,475,765 COVID-19 cumulative cases in the region, which represents 89 per cent of the total cases in Latin America, and 18 per cent of all infections recorded globally.
Countries such as Brazil, Peru, Colombia and Ecuador all experienced severe outbreaks. For example, Brazil currently reports the third highest number of cumulative cases (18,855,015) and second highest death toll (526,892) globally.
“Open South America will facilitate orderly, regular and responsible migration in South America amid the uncertain times of COVID-19 and after the pandemic,” said Minister Ana Laura Cachaza, General Director of Consular Affairs of the Government of Argentina.
“Migrants’ access to up-to-date information through innovative online tools is essential considering the changing migration dynamic in the region due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Marcelo Pisani, IOM Regional Director for South America.
29,000 Nigerians, Ghanaians, Somalians, other Africans migrated through the Mediterranean Sea to Europe in 2021 —IOM
The International Organisation for Migration has said that 29,000 individuals including Nigerians, Ghanaians, Somalians and other Africans have emigrated to Europe through the Mediterranean Sea this year.
About 13,000 were arrested by the coast guards and returned home while 761 migrants were said to have perished in the sea.
Disclosing this to journalists in Abuja on Friday, the Chief of Mission, IOM Nigeria, Mr Franz Celestin, said less than five per cent of migrants usually made it to Europe, adding that the vast majority stay in Africa.
He further said that a lot of migrants were trafficked within the Economic Community of West African States, adding that Mali was the number one destination point for trafficked Nigerian women.
Responding to questions on the number of people who have undertaken the perilous trip to Europe through the Mediterranean, the IOM Chief said, “A combination of unemployment and underemployment is pushing people to migrate.
“In this year, 29,000 migrants from Sub-Sahara Africa have migrated to Europe through the Mediterranean. About 13,000 were intercepted by the coastguard while 761 died.”
Celestin stressed the importance of tackling human trafficking which he said grossed about $150 billion annually.
“Traffickers make a lot of money and they would continue to do it until a coordinated response is evolved to stop them. We are collaborating with Interpol in this respect; we are connected to the Interpol i/247 database. We connected the MIDAS to the Interpol database where we pass the information on traffickers to the Interpol,” he stated.
Celestin explained that the IOM has been involved in the biometric registration of children in the North-East, noting that the agency has registered no fewer than 17,053 children in 18 different internally displaced person camps between 2019 and May 2021 in Borno State.
The agency chief also disclosed that IOM was involved in the G7 Famine Prevention and Humanitarian Compact for North-East.
FG condemns killing of Nigerian footballer in UK
The Federal government has condemned the alleged killing of a Nigerian Footballer, Kelvin Igweani, by the UK police.
Recall that Igweani, a Nigerian Footballer, was shot dead by officers, who attended a call out to a house, where a child was found with serious injuries.
Reacting, Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, Chairman/CEO, Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM), in Abuja on Wednesday described the incident as very unfortunate,and sad.
Dabiri-Erewa condoled with the family of the deceased and the Nigerian communities in the UK while praying that God grants rest to the soul of the departed.
“We call on the UK government for a thorough and proper investigation to be carried out on the incident,” the statement added.
Germany allows more non-vaccinated third-country citizens to enter for tourism from Sunday, but not Brits
Spain expects to welcome 45 million international tourists this year, despite UK travel restrictions
France: Tourists are now obliged to pay for COVID-19 tests
News6 months ago
Gavi, IOM join forces to improve immunization coverage for migrants
News12 months ago
Lead review of anti-human trafficking strategies in Nigeria- JIFORM tells NAPTIP
News1 year ago
30 migrants killed in Libya
News1 year ago
Europe spends billions stopping migration. Good luck figuring out where the money actually goes
News1 year ago
Germany moves to deport 5th batch of Nigerians amidst Coronavirus challenges
News1 year ago
Trafficked Nigerian girl relives sexual harassment, slavery experience in Oman
News1 year ago
Refugees to the rescue? Germany taps migrant medics to battle virus
News1 year ago
Covid 19: UN in West and Central Africa worry about migrants as traffickers abandon victims in desert