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DECEMBER 2007

IPCS Research Papers

National Refugee Law for India: Benefits and Roadblocks
Arjun Nair

Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies New De-lihi, INDIA

© 2007, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS) The Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies is not responsible for the facts, views or opinion expressed by the author. The Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS), established in August 1996, is an independent think tank devoted to research on peace and security from a South Asian perspective. Its aim is to develop a comprehensive and alternative framework for peace and security in the region catering to the changing demands of national, regional and global security. Address: B 7/3 Lower Ground Floor Safdarjung Enclave New Delhi 110029 INDIA Tel: 91-11-4100 1900, 4165 2556, 4165 2557, 4165 2558, 4165 2559 Fax: (91-11) 4165 2560 Email: officemail@ipcs.org Web: www.ipcs.org

CONTENTS

Overview of Refugees Situation in India................................................................................... 1 Roadblocks to Formulating a Law.............................................................................................. 4 The Refugee Law and Its Benefits.............................................................................................. 6 Conclusion and Recommendations............................................................................................ 9

Overview of Refugees Situation in India
India’s status as a preferred refugee haven is confirmed by the steady flow of refugees from many of its subcontinental neighbours as also from elsewhere. India continues to receive them despite its own over-a-billion population with at least six hundred million living in poverty with limited access to basic amenities. However, the Indian legal framework has no uniform law to deal with its huge refugee population, and has not made any progress towards evolving one either; until then, it chooses to treat incoming refugees based on their national origin and political considerations, questioning the uniformity of rights and privileges granted to refugee communities. Indeed, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has submitted numerous reports1 urging the promulgation of a national law, or at least, making changes or amendments to the outdated Foreigners Act (1946), which is the current law consulted by authorities with regard to refugees and asylum seekers. The primary and most significant lacuna in this law is that it does not contain the term ‘refugee’; consequently under Indian Law, the term ‘foreigner’ is used to cover aliens temporarily or permanently residing in the country. This places refugees, along with immigrants, and tourists in this broad category,2 depriving them of privileges available under the Geneva Convention.3 Despite these factors, the current number of refugees and asylum seekers in India stands at approximately 435,900 according to the World Refugee Survey 2007 conducted by the United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI),4 and supported by the latest figures from the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR). According to these sources, new asylum seekers for 2007 numbered about 17,900, in contrast to the mere 600 recorded departures from the country. India mostly plays host to refugees from its neighbouring countries who are either forced to leave their countries of origin due to internal or external conflict, political persecution or human rights infringements. India has offered refuge status to asylum seekers from countries like: 1. China: Refugees and asylum seekers from Tibet number around 110,000. 2. Nepal: Excluding migrant workers, the population stands at 100,000 refugees. However this number is not usually considered because of the Indo-Nepal Friendship Treaty.5 3. Sri Lanka: Total strength of conflictinduced refugees of Tamil origin stands at 99,600. 4. Myanmar: Currently 50,000 refugees and asylum...
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