The two most important articles concerned with the rights of refugees are the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol. Article 1(A)(2) of the Convention defines refugees as:
“Owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”
The status quo in today’s world is such that people are reluctant to leave their country in order to flee from the constant persecution, hatred, discrimination faced by them in their homeland. This has led to a situation where people are always on the move looking for the right place to settle. The term used to describe these people is ‘Refugee’, though other expressions such as ‘asylum seeker’ and ‘immigrant’ are used anonymously, there being slight difference between their meanings.
India boasts of one of the largest refugee population despite the fact that it does not have a fixed national framework to recognize them and provide them with certain rights which are necessary for these refugees. India does not have a separate law just to deal with the incoming refugees. It is home to refugees coming from other South-Asian countries such as Srilanka, Bhutan, Afghanistan and Myanmar. Recently, many Rohingya Muslims fled Myanmar and took refuge in India due to the persecution faced by them in the name of ‘Ethnic Cleansing’ by the government. India even provided shelter to hundreds of Rohingyas by constructing houses for them.
India follows the International Law principle of ‘Non-refoulment’ while dealing with the refugees. The principle of ‘Non-refoulment’ says that an alien cannot be expelled, deported or extradited to his state of origin or any other state where there is fear that his life would be in danger or he might be persecuted or discriminated against for any reason whatsoever. This principle is a jus cogens which means that it overrides any other principle which is in conflict with it, and derogation from which is not allowed.
When it comes to the various conventions and other international covenants regarding to the rights of the refugees, India is not a signatory to the 1951 Convention relating to the status of the refugees or the 1967 protocol. It does not have an asylum law/policy either. Despite the absence of laws and framework on refugees, India treats the refugees equally with the citizens as the certain fundamental rights also apply to the refugees.
Moreover, Refugees have been accorded constitutional protection by the judiciary in the case of National Human Rights Commission vs. State of Arunachal Pradesh. The Supreme Court has also pronounced judgments which are pro-refugees and have provided them with the rights which they would not have been conferred with otherwise with no law being in existence. It has even held the extension of fundamental rights such as right to equality and right to life to the refugees.
One of the most recent problems faced by India is the influx of Illegal Immigrants from Bangladesh to Assam due to which National Register of Citizens(NRC) came into existence in order to identify these illegal immigrants. The NRC is a list of citizens which does not include the illegal migrants of Bangladesh. It is the responsibility of the Foreigner’s tribunal to hear cases related to the citizenship and it is the final authority on this matter.
Despite the various judgments and the conducive environment provided to the refugees, India is still in dire need of a refugee law due to the democratic ethos of the country. It is the duty of a democratic country like India to make sure those in need are provided safe haven so that they can live their life peacefully without any interference. India is a signatory to a multitude of International treaties and Covenants including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights(ICCPR), Universal Declaration of Human Rights(UDHR), Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Racial Discrimination and the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). which makes a refugee law a need of the hour as both of the covenants impose a responsibility on the signatories to make sure that the refugees are treated properly and that they are protected from the persecution.
Besides this, refugees need to be apprised of the rights that have which could happen only if there is a law in place which explicitly mentions the rights and protection given to the refugees. A well-defined refugee law would establish a formal refuge granting process with suitable exclusions (war criminals, serious offenders, etc). India needs a law which could help the refugees to reside in the country without suffering from the same discrimination and treatment they went through in their country. They need to be assured that they would not be subjected to any of the harsh conditions which made them flee their country. This could be done only if there’s a law elucidating all the rights which would be provided to them. Such a law would work as a panacea for all the refugees who are looking to take haven in India.