India needs a refugee and asylum law

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India needs a refugee and asylum law

  • A Private Member’s Bill has been introduced in the Lok Sabha proposing the enactment of a Refugee and Asylum law.
  • The Bill lays down comprehensive criteria for recognising asylum seekers and refugees and prescribes specific rights and duties accruing from such status.
  • India has been, and continues to be, a generous host to several persecuted communities, doing more than many countries, but is neither a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, nor does it have a domestic asylum framework.

Private Member’s bill

  • A private member of Parliament (MP) is a member of Parliament who is not a minister.
  • The goal of a private member's bill is to bring the government's attention to flaws and gaps in the current legal system that require legislative action, as identified by individual MPs.
  • As a result, it represents the opposing party's viewpoint on public issues.
  • It is the obligation of the member involved to draught it.
  • It must be introduced in the House with one month's notice.
  • Government legislation can be introduced and debated on any day of the week, while private member bills can only be introduced and debated on Fridays.
  • Its rejection by the House has no bearing on the government's parliamentary confidence or resignation.
  • Following the completion of the discussion, the member piloting the bill has the option of withdrawing it at the request of the minister involved, or proceeding with its passage.
  • The last time both Houses passed a private member's bill was in 1970.
  • The Supreme Court (Enlargement of Criminal Appellate Jurisdiction) Bill of 1968 was the bill which got passed.
  • So far, 14 private member's bills have become law, five of which were introduced in the Rajya Sabha.

Important Terminologies

  • Refugee: A person who has been compelled to flee their homeland due to persecution, war, or violence.
  • Migrants: Migrants are persons who relocate to a new location or nation in search of a better life.
  • Illegal Migrant: Illegal migrants are individuals who have entered the nation using forged documents or who have stayed after their visas have expired.
  • Asylum seeker: Those seeking government protection, but whose claim to be a refugee has yet to be established. As a result, the government is not obligated to give rights enjoyed by refugees.

International conventions, protocols and agreements

  • UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugee, 1951: Outlines the rights of a refugee, including freedom of religion and movement, the ability to employment, education, and access to travel papers. The Principle of Refoulement states that refugees should not be repatriated (refouled) to a nation where they face persecution.
  • Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, 1967: The 1951 Convention allowed Europeans who were involved in events that occurred before January 1, 1951 to petition for refugee status. These geographical and temporal limits were lifted by the 1967 Protocol. India is not a signatory to 1951 UN refugee convention, or its 1967 Protocol.
  • New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, 2016: In 2016, 193 United Nations members signed the New York Declaration on Refugees and Migrants. It is non-binding in nature.

Supreme Court on Asylum

  • In 1996, the Supreme Court of India ruled that the state has to protect all human beings living in India, irrespective of nationality, since they enjoy the rights guaranteed by Articles 14, 20 and 21 of the Constitution to all, not just Indian citizens.
  • Based on this premise, the Supreme Court stopped the forcible eviction of Chakma refugees who had entered Arunachal Pradesh in 1995, in the landmark NHRC vs State of Arunachal Pradesh case.
  • The Court held that an application for asylum must be properly processed and till a decision is made whether to grant or refuse asylum, the state cannot forcibly evict an asylum seeker.

Need for a National Refugee Policy

  • Humanitarian issues: Refugees are not recognised as a unique group deserving of humanitarian protection under the Foreigners Act. Due to the lack of a refugee legislation, combating human rights breaches is difficult.
  • Enumeration of refugees: Due to the lack of a refugee statute, it is impossible to keep track of the precise number of refugees and their current situations.
  • Inconsistency: India's haphazard strategy has resulted in inconsistencies when it comes to dealing with refugees of various nationalities.
  • Robust Institutional system: With the growing number of refugees in India, a robust institutional system for asylum administration is required.
  • South Asian model: It is necessary to build one's own refugee strategy that is tailored to the needs of South Asia rather than emulating Western models. It is critical to guarantee refugees' legal rights, freedoms, and basic living standards.