7 Myanmar refugees can approach UNHCR


News info 

  • Not migrants but asylum seekers’: Manipur HC allows 7 Myanmar citizens to seek UNHCR protection
  • The court said that they did not enter India illegally with a deliberate intention of violating domestic laws.
  • The court directed authorities in the state to make arrangements for their transportation.
  • The seven Myanmar citizens fled after a coup plunged their country into crisis and took shelter in Moreh in Tengnoupal district of Manipur.

 Interpretations of HC’s

  • Though India is not a party to the UN Refugee Conventions, the court observed that the country is a party to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1966. The far-reaching and myriad protection afforded by Article 21 of the Constitution, as interpreted and adumbrated by the Supreme Court time and again, would indubitably encompass the right of non-refoulement.
  • Non-refoulement is the principle under international law that a person fleeing from persecution from his own country should not be forced to return.

Note : The bench asserted that the Constitutional freedoms available under Article 19 are limited to citizens and these seven persons cannot claim such freedoms under Articles 19(1)(d) and 19 (1)(e), with regard to moving freely or residing/settling in any part of the territory of India.

‘Not migrants but asylum seekers’: Manipur HC allows 7 Myanmar citizens to seek UNHCR protection


India’s Refugee Policy

  • The Foreigners Act, 1946, fails to address the peculiar problems faced by refugees as a class. It also gives unbridled power to the Central government to deport any foreign citizen.
  • India lacks specific legislation to address the problem of refugees, in spite of their increasing inflow.
  • In spite of not being a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, India has had a stellar record on the issue of refugee protection. India has a moral tradition for assimilating foreign people and culture.
  • Further, the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 (CAA) strikingly excludes Muslims from its purview and seeks to provide citizenship only to Hindu, Christian, Jain, Parsi, Sikh, and Buddhist immigrants persecuted in Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.
  • Moreover, India is not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, the key legal documents pertaining to refugee protection.
  • Further, the constitution of India also respects the life, liberty, and dignity of human beings.
  • The Supreme Court in the National Human Rights Commission vs. State of Arunachal Pradesh (1996) held that “while all rights are available to citizens, persons including foreign citizens are entitled to the right to equality and the right to life, among others.”

India’s Argument for Not Signing the 1951 Refugee Convention

  • The definition of refugees in the 1951 convention only pertains to the violation of civil and political rights, but not economic rights, of individuals.
  • For instance, a person, under the definition of the convention, could be considered if he/she is deprived of political rights, but not if he/she is deprived of 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.
  • On the other hand, this argument, if used in the South Asian context, could be a problematic proposition for India too.

Challenges Associated With India’s Refugee Policy

  • Refugees vs. Immigrants: In the recent past, many people from neighboring countries tend to illegally immigrate to India, not because of state persecution but in search of better economic opportunities in India.
  • While the reality is that much of the debate in the country is about illegal immigrants, not refugees, the two categories tend to get bunched together.
  • Due to this, policies and remedies to deal with these issues suffer from a lack of clarity as well as policy utility.
  • Ambiguity in the Framework: The main reason why our policies towards illegal immigrants and refugees are confused is that as per Indian law, both categories of people are viewed as one and the same and are covered under the Foreigners Act, 1946.
  • Ad-hocism: The absence of such a legal framework also leads to policy ambiguity whereby India’s refugee policy is guided primarily by ad hocism.
  • Ad hoc measures enable the government in office to pick and choose ‘what kind’ of refugees it wants to admit for whatever political or geopolitical reasons.
  • This results in a discriminatory action, which tends to be a violation of human rights.

Discriminatory CAA: 

  • The Government of India has passed the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). CAA envisages providing citizenship to people who are religious minorities in India’s neighborhood and persecuted by the state.
  • However, CAA is not the answer to the refugee problem primarily because of its deeply discriminatory nature, as it doesn’t include a particular religion under its ambit.
  • Further, many political analysts have dubbed the CAA as an act of refugee avoidance, not refugee protection.

United Nations Refugee Convention 1951

  • It is a United Nations multilateral treaty that defines who is a refugee, and sets out the rights of individuals who are granted asylum and the responsibilities of nations that grant asylum.
  • It also set out which people do not qualify as refugees, such as war criminals.
  •  It grants certain rights to people fleeing persecution because of race, religion, nationality, affiliation to a particular social group, or political opinion.
  • The Convention also provides for some visa-free travel for holders of travel documents issued under the convention.
  • The Convention builds on Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948, which recognizes the right of persons to seek asylum from persecution in other countries.
  •  A refugee may enjoy rights and benefits in a state in addition to those provided for in the Convention
  •  The 1967 Protocol included refugees from all countries as opposed to the 1951 Convention that only included refugees from Europe.
  •  India is not a member of this convention.




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