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Rohingya Refugees in India

  • 22 May 2023
  • 9 min read

For Prelims: Rohingya, Myanmar, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 (CAA), 1951 Refugee Convention.

For Mains: Reasons behind India's Decision not to Sign the 1951 Refugee Convention, Current Legislative Framework in India to Handle Refugees.

Why in News?

A recent report titled 'A Shadow of Refuge: Rohingya Refugees in India' sheds light on the challenges faced by Rohingya refugees in India.

  • The report was jointly prepared by The Azadi Project, a women’s rights non-profit and Refugees International, an international NGO that advocates for the rights of stateless people

What is the Rohingya Crisis?

  • The Rohingya people have suffered decades of violence, discrimination and persecution in Myanmar.
    • Rohingya are not recognized as an official ethnic group and have been denied citizenship since 1982. They are one of the largest stateless populations in the world.
  • Since the early 1990's, the Rohingya have fled successive waves of violence in Myanmar.
    • Their largest and fastest exodus began in August 2017 when violence broke out in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, driving more than 742,000 people to seek refuge in neighbouring countries —the majority of whom were women and children.

What are the Concerns and Recommendations Outlined in the Report?

  • Concerns Related to Rohingya:
    • Denied Exit Permissions for Resettlement:
      • India's refusal to grant exit visas to Rohingya refugees who have completed refugee status determinations and gained approval for resettlement in third countries is a significant concern.
    • Stigmatisation and Anti-Refugee Sentiment:
      • The Rohingya refugees in India face various challenges, including being labelled as "illegal migrants" .
      • This stigmatisation not only hampers their integration into society but also places them at risk of being deported back to Myanmar, where they fled from a genocidal regime.
    • Fear of Deportation:
      • Actual and threatened deportations have instilled a sense of fear within the Rohingya community, compelling some to return to camps in Bangladesh.
      • International conventions, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, obligate India not to return the Rohingya to Myanmar.
        • However, the Supreme Court has accepted the government's arguments regarding national security threats, allowing deportations to proceed.
    • Harsh Living Conditions:
      • The report details the dire living conditions of Rohingya refugees in India, residing in slum-like settlements without safe running water, toilets, or access to basic healthcare and education.
        • Without valid travel documents, obtaining an Aadhaar card for essential services such as school admissions has become impossible.
  • Recommendations:
    • Formal Recognition and Domestic Laws: India should formally recognize Rohingya refugees as individuals with a right to asylum rather than as illegal migrants.
      • Signing the 1951 Refugee Convention and establishing domestic laws on refugees and asylum can be the crucial steps to achieve this.
    • Acknowledgment of Residency: India can recognize UNHCR cards as sufficient for accessing basic education, work, and health services.
      • UNHCR cards refer to identification documents issued by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to individuals who have been recognized as refugees or asylum seekers.
        • UNHCR is the United Nations agency responsible for protecting and supporting refugees worldwide.
      • UNHCR cards serve as proof of the individual's status as a refugee or asylum seeker and may grant them certain rights and access to services in the country where they reside.
    • Global Credibility and National Security: Treating refugees better would enhance India's global credibility and serve national security interests by documenting new arrivals and discouraging them from remaining under the radar.
      • The report suggests that India can play a proactive role in facilitating resettlement opportunities for Rohingya refugees by advocating for their acceptance in ally countries such as the U.S., Canada, Australia, Germany, and other European nations.

What can be the Reasons behind India's Decision not to Sign the 1951 Refugee Convention?

  • Issue with Definition of Refugee: According to the 1951 convention, refugees are defined as people who have been deprived of their civil and political rights, but not their economic rights.
    • If the violation of economic rights were to be included in the definition of a refugee, it would clearly pose a major burden on the developed world.
  • Sovereignty Concerns: Countries may be reluctant to sign international agreements that they believe could compromise their sovereignty or interfere with their domestic policies and decision-making processes.
    • By not signing the convention, India retains the freedom to implement its own refugee policies.
  • Limited Resources: India is one of the most populous countries in the world and already faces significant challenges in providing basic services and resources to its own population.
    • Signing the convention might result in increased responsibilities and resource burdens related to the protection and support of refugees.
  • Regional Dynamics: India is located in a region that has been historically affected by various conflicts and displacement situations.
    • The country has faced influxes of refugees from neighbouring countries, due to the porous nature of borders in South Asia.
    • However, India is still bound by other international human rights treaties and customary international law principles.

What is the Current Legislative Framework in India to Handle Refugees?

  • India treats all foreigners whether illegal immigrants, refugees/asylum seekers or those overstaying visa permits under
    • Foreigners Act of 1946: Under Section 3, the central government is empowered to detect, detain and deport illegal foreign nationals.
    • Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920: Under Section 5, authorities can remove an illegal foreigner by force under Article 258(1) of the Constitution of India.
    • Registration of Foreigners Act of 1939: Under this, there is a mandatory requirement under which all foreign nationals (excluding overseas citizens of India) visiting India on a long-term visa (more than 180 days) are required to register themselves with a Registration Officer within 14 days of arriving in India.
    • Citizenship Act, 1955: It provided provisions for renunciation, termination, and deprivation of citizenship.
  • India issued a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) to be followed by all concerned agencies while dealing with foreign nationals who claim to be refugees.

UPSC Civil Services Examination, Previous Year Question (PYQ)


Q. Consider the following pairs: (2016)

Community sometimes mentioned in the news In the affairs of
1. Kurd Bangladesh
2. Madhesi Nepal
3. Rohingya Myanmar

Which of the pairs given above is/are correctly matched?

(a) 1 and 2
(b) 2 only
(c) 2 and 3 
(d) 3 only

Ans- (c)


Q. How does illegal transborder migration pose a threat to India’s security? Discuss the strategies to curb this, bringing out the factors which give impetus to such migration. (2014)

Source: TH

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