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India and her Refugees



The recent controversy of NRC (The National Register of Citizens) in Assam has brought the issues of refugees in India on the forefront. The National Register of Citizens (NRC) is a register maintained by the Government of India containing names & certain relevant information for identification of Indian citizens of Assam state. Assam BJP unit president Ranjeet Kumar Dass said that bringing Citizenship Amendment bill (CAB) has become more pertinent for over 19 lakh people are excluded in the final national register of citizens (NRC) published on August 31. He said that the bill will benefit large number of Indians who did not make it to the NRC. Huge controversies are there on this bill and moreover a couple of years back the news of the Rohingya refugees fleeing violence in Myanmar at a staggering rate to Bangladesh and the controversy created around them to enter India had set all the eyeballs on the news of refugees. Not only the Rohingya, the Syria refugees are also in the news for quite some time but Indian weren’t much concerned about them. Rohingya’s knock on the Indian border has definitely brought the Indians to their senses. Also the Indian Government’s move to grant citizenship to the Chakma and Hajong community has brought the refuges in headlines.


The refugees all across the world walk for days through jungles and mountains, or wades through rivers, or brave dangerous sea voyages across the deadliest seas and arrive exhausted, hungry and sick – in need of international protection and humanitarian assistance. There had always been refuges all across the world for different reasons. People were forced from their home countries due to conflict or repression or something else, and who must find new homes and new lives abroad. The number of refugees and internally displaced now stands at more than 65 million, the largest figure ever recorded. According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), more than half of the world’s refugees come from just three countries ravaged by conflict – Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia (these figures do not include the 5.2 million Palestinians registered by the UN Relief and Works Agency).


The current refugee crisis is global. The coverage has focused heavily on the refugees arriving in Europe, and especially on Syrian refugees. But in fact refugees are fleeing countries from Honduras to Nigeria to Myanmar, and they are arriving in wealthy countries including the US and Australia, as well as poorer ones like Turkey and Lebanon. It is a worldwide problem — one whose scale and severity is unmatched since World War II.

With this alarming rise of the refugee crisis let us look how India deals with the refugees.

India is not a signatory of several international laws and conventions that govern the inflow, status and treatment of refugees like the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention on the Status of Refugees or its 1967 Protocol. India, meanwhile, deals with refugees and asylum seekers and refugees on an ad hoc basis. The care and treatment of refugees falls under India’s Registration of Foreigners Act of 1939, the Foreigners Act of 1946 and the Foreigners Order of 1948. The Indian Evidence Act, the Indian Penal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure apply to refugees who are living on Indian soil.

There are eight groups of refugees in India, namely the Tibetans, Bangladeshis, Pakistani Hindus & Sikhs, Afghan, Tamil, Rohingya, Chakma and Hajong.


India had been extra ordinarily generous to the Tibetan people by allowing them to enter India in hundred thousand and also allowed them to develop their settlements, schools and medical facilities. The Chinese invasion in 1950 led to years of turmoil that culminated in the complete overthrow of the Tibetan Government. The 14th Dalai Lama fled to India with some of his officials to Dharamsala, India in 1959. Year later, about 100 thousand of Tibetan men, women and children have found refuge in India, Nepal and Bhutan. Again in 1980 after Tibet was opened to trade and tourism, a second wave of Tibetan exodus took place due to increasing political repression. About 25,000 Tibetans joined in a span of next 10 years.

India has helped them to the best of her abilities and the Tibetans are now spread across the country in around 35 designated settlements and other places. According to a Delhi High Court ruling in September 2016, Tibetans born between January 26, 1950, to July 1, 1987 are considered Indians by birth and can apply for passports.


Since the partition of India in 1947, India has received waves of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers from Bangladesh (erstwhile East Pakistan) and Pakistan. Post 1947 the largest influx of refugees was seen during the Bangladesh Liberation War. Lakhs of people living in Bangladesh escaped the genocide carried out by Pakistani military. Refugee settlements came up in states such as West Bengal, Meghalaya, Assam and Tripura. According to official estimates, as many as 10 million refugees were given shelter during the massacre and majority of them never returned to their homes in Bangladesh after peace prevailed, rather they chose to assimilate within India.


Pakistani Hindu and Sikh Refugees started coming to India since 1947 but in the recent past they came in hordes due to Pakistan’s religious repression. India has at least 400 settlements of Pakistani Hindu and Sikh refugees. Most of them live in refugee colonies in Rajasthan, Gujarat and Delhi with ramshackle shanties and work as daily wage labourers. The government usually provides citizenship to Pakistani refugees after strenuous arguments, appeals and long periods of convincing the authorities owing to security concerns.


The afghan refugees first came to India after the Afghan-Soviet war that lasted from 1979-1989. Then in the last few years also there has been a huge influx of refugees during the Taliban regime and the post war. Around 60,000 refugees from Afghanistan had arrived during the Afghan-Soviet war, though most of them returned back and now it is estimated to be 10,000 afghan refugees are staying in India.


Around a lakh Sri Lankan Tamils currently live in India with most having arrived during or around the time of the Sri Lankan civil war. The people escaped violence and killings in Sri Lanka and sought refuge in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka. The population of Sri Lankan Tamils is more than the number that arrived but official estimates place around 60,000 Tamil refugees living in Tamil Nadu’s 109 camps alone.


Rohingya, the ethnic Muslim community belonging to the Rakhine state of Myanmar. Even though they belong to Myanmar, Burmese authorities refuse to recognise them as citizens. The Rohingyas are facing violence arguably to the extent of genocide in Rakhine with many calling it an act or attempt at ethnic cleansing. In recent months, Rohingyas have settled in places like Delhi, Hyderabad, Kashmir, West Bengal and the northeastern states. However, the government has refused to recognise Rohingyas as refugees.


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