India’s ad hoc refugee policy exposed again

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In another episode that exposes India’s ad hoc refugee policy, two Union ministers got involved in a row over the allotment of government flats to Rohingya refugees in Delhi. First, Union housing and urban affairs minister Hardeep Puri hailed the decision to shift Rohingya refugees to EWS flats in the national capital and provide them with UNHCR IDs and round-the-clock police protection. This, however, triggered a storm on social media with critics of the government move pointing out that the Centre had previously categorised Rohingyas as illegal migrants. That in turn forced the office of Union home minister Amit Shah to issue a clarification that it had given no such instructions to shift Rohingya “illegal migrants” to EWS flats and that it had already taken up the matter of their deportation with the concerned country. 

Read also: Home ministry refutes Hardeep Singh Puri, says Rohingya not welcome

This clearly shows the inconsistencies in India’s refugee policy. India has long hosted millions of refugees and has largely stuck to the principle of non-refoulement. But in the absence of a proper refugee policy based on clearly defined principles and metrics, treatment of different refugee groups differs. Therefore, there are considerable differences between the conditions of Sri Lankan Tamil refugees, Afghan Muslim refugees, Afghan and Pakistani Sikh and Hindu refugees, Tibetan refugees, Burmese refugees and Rohingyas. But such ad-hocism is bound to lead to confusion. Given that India is neither a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention nor its 1967 Protocol, treatment of refugees is determined by political expediency which is unhelpful. 

 

Hence, GOI should formulate a proper refugee policy, determine clear criteria for hosting refugees, categorise refugees accordingly and provide services to them as per the laid out framework. For, the current situation where refugees are officially not recognised as such but continue to live in this country anyway is both against humanitarian principles and poses a national security threat as these migrants can be pushed towards radicalisation and illegal activities. It is time to actualise a proper, streamlined refugee policy for the country.    



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