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Why India is home to millions of refugees but doesn’t have a policy for them

 

India is home to millions of refugees

A refugee train in Punjab, during Partition | Commons

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.

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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.

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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.

READ ALSO: The child refugees risking the Channel by boat – one year on

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.

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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.

(theprint.in)

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Displaced Yemen children at risk of the deadly impacts of severe food insecurity  

Migrants near Budapest

The latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) Acute Malnutrition analysis released today by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Food Programme (WFP) and other partners is extremely concerning. With limited access to food, humanitarian services and health care, displaced children in Yemen are at risk of the deadly impacts of severe food insecurity.

Around 26 per cent of the more than 156,000 people newly displaced this year, in the areas where the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has access, cited food as their main need. This is the second most cited need after shelter and housing, which 65 per cent of people reported as their main need. In areas where there are higher levels of displacement, like Al Hudaydah, Taizz, Al Dhale’e and Marib, higher levels of food needs have also been reported.

“Displaced Yemenis leave their homes with nothing and often find themselves seeking safety in locations where there are no job opportunities and barely enough services, including health care,” said Christa Rottensteiner, IOM Chief of Mission for Yemen.

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“This can leave vulnerable people without enough food to feed their families. Given that UN partners are reporting that acute malnutrition rates among children under five are the highest ever recorded in parts of Yemen, we are extremely worried about children in displaced families.”

The situation in Marib is particularly concerning given that an escalation in hostilities has displaced over 90,000 people to the city and caused a drastic shortage of services. Displaced people in Marib report food to be one of their most urgent needs. Of the displacement sites assessed by IOM in October, some reported that food shortages were a major concern for approximately 50 per cent of their residents.

In response to food insecurity, the emergency aid kits distributed under the Rapid Response Mechanism by IOM to newly displaced families include emergency food rations. IOM also carries out livelihood support activities for displaced communities to help them generate income. Most recently the Organization supported displaced women in making face masks which help their community combat the spread of COVID-19.

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IOM also operates a health centre in Al Jufainah Camp, Yemen’s largest displacement site, and multiple mobile health clinics. In addition to providing primary health care services to over 55 per cent of displaced people in Marib, IOM’s mobile health clinics provide community level access to malnutrition screening for children under the age of five and referral for treatment, in coordination with UNICEF. Given the high demand for such nutritional support, early intervention is vital to reducing avoidable morbidity and mortality among displaced children.

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Nigerians in Spain say no to genocide

Nigerians resident in Spain have kicked against bad governance and brutalitalisation of innocent citizens by security operatives in Nigeria.

They are in solidarity with the #Endsars protesters.

The #Endsars protest  started by young Nigerians to say no to brutality, impunity and gruesome killings in the hands of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the government in the country saw security operatives using live bullets on the protesters last week, October 21, 2020.

In a statement signed by Afolabi Oloko, the Nigerians in Spain said: “In every part  of the world, including Nigeria, we believe protesting is a fundamental right of all citizenry that we can exercise whenever we deem it fit as long as it is civil and devoid of violence but such is not the case in Nigeria where the young future of the country are murdered by their very own government just because they made demands that there must be a reform to the notorious Police department and that the country be reformed in general. Have they asked for too much from a responsible and responsive government?

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“It is so disheartening that after Ten days that the youth refused to back down they resorted to killing, maiming of their own future generations just because they asked and begged for good governance and good policing. It’s a shame that young people are being killed all around the cities of Nigeria from Lagos, Abeokuta, Ibadan, Abuja, Ondo , Benin, Porthacort just to mention a few. It was horrendous seeing over seventy people being murdered at night while still protesting unarmed peacefully in Lekki area of Lagos state. They organised by switching off the street light while they carried out their evil deed against defenceless young people of the country and also took away the CCTV. The commander-in-chief of the Armed forces in person of President Muhamodu Buhari must be tried at the International court for genocide against it’s own people.

“We the compatriots far away in Spain are with our young brothers and sister on the streets saying no to bad governance as you’re in our hearts and prayers. We support you in the just cause you’re are fighting. Fighting for one’s future should not be seen as an affront to the authorities, rather they should look inward and realise that the system is rotten and should be cleansed but not killing innocent young men on the streets with Army being deployed to take lives of vibrant and resourceful, frustrated and change hungry citizens.
“Today, we came out in multitude in solidarity with our compatriots back home to say #ENDSARS! #ENDBADGOVERNANCE #ENDPOLICEBRUTALITY #ENDCORUPTION #ENDTHEGENOCIDE”

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ILO, IOM sign agreement to strengthen collaboration on migration governance

The International Labour Organization (ILO) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) today signed an Agreement to create a framework for cooperation and collaboration to enhance the benefits of migration for all.

The framework includes joint support for improved migration governance, capacity building and policy coherence at national, regional and global levels. Other areas of work may also be developed.

The Agreement was signed by Guy Ryder, ILO Director-General, and António Vitorino, the IOM Director-General, on Friday at the ILO Headquarters in Geneva.

Speaking after the signing ceremony, Ryder said, “this Agreement seals an important alliance between our two organizations. Together, we will be stronger and more effective in both fulfilling our individual mandates and in collaborating on areas that are crucial for reshaping the world of work so that it is more inclusive, equitable and sustainable.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic is having a brutal impact on economies and societies. Vulnerable groups, particularly migrant workers and their families, are being disproportionately hit. There could be no better time to reinforce our partnership and combine our strengths, so that we can help countries and our constituents build back for a better future.”

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DG Vitorino said, “the agreement that we are signing today will help us further solidify our collaboration at the time when joint solutions are so much needed, with a pandemic that is hitting the most vulnerable the hardest. As we move towards post-pandemic recovery, we fully embrace the call to build a better world together, tapping into the added value of each partner. With ILO, we have much to co-create and we look forward to future cooperation within the broader UN family, with our partner governments, private sector and civil society.”

The new ILO-IOM Agreement builds on the agencies’ comparative advantages, expertise, and respective constituencies. By encouraging joint initiatives, the Agreement aims to strengthen international migration governance and boost cooperation, capacity building and joint advocacy to promote migrants’ rights and decent work opportunities.

By encouraging social dialogue, it will allow workers` and employers` organizations – who sit equally with governments in the ILO’s tripartite membership structure – to contribute to policy discussions.

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A workplan will be developed in the next six months to push forward the collaboration at global, regional and country levels and, more importantly, facilitate the implementation of the Agreement in the field, where both agencies are working directly with affected populations.

It will seek to enhance the agencies joint contribution to their member states, UN country teams, and societies to achieve the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The Agreement will also allow the ILO and IOM to strengthen support for their respective constituencies in implementing the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration (GCM), and contribute to other global and regional migration policy fora and debates.

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