Draft Law on Refugee Rights

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    In News

    • Model laws on asylum and refugees that were drafted by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) decades ago but not implemented by the government could be revised by an expert committee.

    About the Bill

    • The Bill lays down comprehensive criteria for recognising asylum seekers and refugees and prescribes specific rights and duties accruing from such status.
    • The refugees and asylum seekers were entitled to the rights in Articles 14, 20 and 21 of the Constitution.
    • Refugee: People who have fled their home countries and crossed an international border because of a well-founded fear of persecution in their home countries, on grounds of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion
      • This means that people who cross borders in quest of economic betterment, or because they are fleeing poverty, anarchy or environmental disaster, do not qualify as refugees.
      • Nor do those who flee from one part of their home country to another because of war, conflict or fear of persecution.

    India’s Refugee Policy

    • India’s approach towards refugees is customary and a dynamic one having regard to prevailing socio-political conditions. Though India is not a party to 1951 convention or 1967 protocol it acceded to various Human Rights treaties including the UNHCR and it is obliged to protect the rights of refugees.
    • As per Indian law, there is no law to deal with the refugee, both illegal migrants & refugee categories of people are viewed as one and the same and are covered under the Foreigners Act, 1946. 
    • The constitution of India protects the refugees’ right to life with dignity that includes right against solitary confinement and custodial violence, right to medical assistance and shelter.

    Issues

    • There is a lack of specific legislation governing refugees and asylum seekers.
      • We lack a clear vision or policy on refugee management.
    • The drafts needed to be updated and converted into laws. The absence of such a framework will make the refugees vulnerable to exploitation, especially human trafficking.
    • The refugees put tremendous pressure on the resources of the area and have also disturbed the local demographic profile.
    • Internal security compromises.
    • Huge resources and time for maintaining data about them.
    • Allowing refugees further leads to refugee traps .Countries cannot send back the refugees nor keep them in their land.
    • Rohingya refugees: The Government had expelled to Myanmar two batches of Rohingya refugees in the face of a grave risk of persecution in the country they had fled.
    • Chakmas in Arunachal Pradesh and Myanmarese in Mizoram: Same behavior had been shown against these two communities too.
    • We have a cocktail of laws such as the Foreigners Act, 1946, the Registration of Foreigners Act, 1939, the Passports Act (1967), the Extradition Act, 1962, the Citizenship Act, 1955 (including its controversial 2019 amendment) and the Foreigners Order, 1948 — all of which club all foreign individuals together as “aliens”.

    Significance

    • If such laws were enacted, it would give legal sanctity and uniformity, ensuring the protection of human rights.
    • Principle of non-refoulement: our government’s continuing disrespect for the international legal principle of non-refoulement the cornerstone of refugee law, which states that no country should send a person to a place where he or she may face persecution and even more, its betrayal of India’s millennial traditions of asylum and hospitality to strangers.
    • The right to seek asylum in India would be available to all foreigners irrespective of their nationality, race, religion, or ethnicity.
    • A National Commission for Asylum would be constituted to receive and decide all such applications.

    Way Forward

    • There is a need to constitute a panel/committee of scholars and domain experts to update these draft laws.
    • When we speak of refugee protection, we often limit ourselves to just providing asylum. We need a proper framework to make sure that refugees can access basic public services, be able to legally seek jobs and livelihood opportunities for some source of income.
    • In so doing, we would uphold our own finest traditions and the highest standards of our democracy. 

    Source: TH