Need of Refugee and Asylum law in India – UPSC GS2

Context: A private member’s bill is introduced in the Lok Sabha proposing the enactment of a Refugee and Asylum law in India.
Need for a Refugee and Asylum Act:
  • Recent acts of refoulement
    • Government expelled two batches of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar in the face of a grave risk of persecution in their country.
    • The Government also attempted to do the same with Chakmas in Arunachal Pradesh and Myanmarese in Mizoram.
    • Currently, many Afghan students are stranded in India due to the Taliban takeover and have not had their visas renewed, and could face similar troubles.
  • No domestic refugee framework
    • Though India has been and continues to be generous towards several persecuted communities, it is neither a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, nor does it have a domestic asylum framework.
  • Absence of Uniform law
    • In the absence of a comprehensive law to deal with refugees, India lacks a clear vision or policy on refugee management.
    • Currently, we have 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 and the Foreigners Order, 1948. All of which club all foreign individuals together as “aliens”.
    • The problems of refugees are dealt with in an ad hoc manner, and like other foreigners, they always face the possibility of being deported.
  • Problem of Human trafficking
    • Without access to basic services, jobs, livelihood opportunities along with the absence of a legal framework will make the refugees vulnerable to exploitation, especially human trafficking.
Significance of the bill:
  • The Bill would act as a check on arbitrary action by the authorities.
  • The right to seek asylum in India would be extended to all foreigners irrespective of their nationality, race, religion, or ethnicity.
  • The National Commission for Asylum would be set up to receive and decide all the matters related to refugees and their problems
  • The principle of non-refoulement would be upheld, with no exceptions (though there are provisions for exclusion, expulsion, and revocation of refugee status)
  • The Bill, if enacted, will put India at the forefront of asylum management in the world.
  • It will recognise India’s long-standing and continuing commitment to humanitarian and democratic values while dealing with refugees.
Court’s View:
  • In 1996, the Supreme Court of India held that the state has to protect all humans living in India, irrespective of nationality since the rights guaranteed by Articles 14, 20 and 21 of the Constitution extend to all and are not just to Indian citizens.
  • In NHRC vs State of Arunachal Pradesh case 1995, the Supreme Court stopped the forcible eviction of Chakma refugees who had entered Arunachal Pradesh.
  • The Court also said that an application for asylum must be duly processed and the state cannot forcibly evict an asylum seeker until a decision is made on grant of asylum.
India, as a significant player in the emerging multipolar world, must build on the Supreme Court’s vision and constitute a refugee law that would help uphold our traditional values and high standards of democracy.