IAS Gyan

Daily News Analysis

Refugee Policy of India

24th August, 2021 Polity


  • Many Afghan nationals are seeking refuge in India after takeover by the Taliban.


Afghan Refugees in India:

  • there are currently 21,000 Afghan refugees in India. 
  • The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) documented 8275 Afghan refugees and 6000 plus asylum seekers in India, under its mandate.
  • Total Afghan Refugees in world:
  • According to UNHRC data for 2020, the total number of refugees from Afghanistan globally, number roughly 28 lakh.
  • Of this, Pakistan housed the most refugees from Afghanistan at 14.3 lakh, followed by Iran (7.8 lakh) and Germany (1.4 lakh). 
  • As of 2020, India had the 12th highest number of Afghan refugees, according to the UNHRC.


Definition of Refugee:

  • Under the 1951 UN Convention on the Status of Refugees and the subsequent 1967 Protocol, the word refugee pertains to any person who is outside their country of origin and unable or unwilling to return owing to well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.
  • Stateless persons may also be refugees in this sense, where country of origin (citizenship) is understood as ‘country of former habitual residence’. 


International Protocol for Refugees:

  • The United Nations’ 1951 Refugee Convention, the only refugee instrument that existed at the time, had been created to accord protection to people displaced in the aftermath of World War II. 
  • The 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol are the key legal documents that form the basis of our work. With 149 State parties to either or both, they define the term ‘refugee’ and outlines the rights of refugees, as well as the legal obligations of States to protect them.
  • The core principle is non-refoulement, which asserts that a refugee should not be returned to a country where they face serious threats to their life or freedom. This is now considered a rule of customary international law. 


Difference between Refugee and Migrant:

  • Refugees are forced to flee because of a threat of persecution and because they lack the protection of their own country.
  • A migrant, in comparison, may leave his or her country for many reasons that are not related to persecution, such as for the purposes of employment, family reunification or study.


Rights of Refugees under UNHCR Convention:

  • The cornerstone of the 1951 Convention is the principle of non-refoulement contained in Article 33. According to this principle, a refugee should not be returned to a country where he or she faces serious threats to his or her life or freedom.
  • The right not to be punished for illegal entry into the territory of a contracting State (Article31);
  • The right to work (Articles 17 to 19);
  • The right to housing (Article 21);
  • The right to education (Article 22);
  • The right to public relief and assistance (Article 23);
  • The right to freedom of religion (Article 4);
  • The right to access the courts (Article 16);
  • The right to freedom of movement within the territory (Article 26); and
  • The right to be issued identity and travel documents (Articles 27 and 28).


Determination of the Refugee:

  • Although the 1951 Convention does not prescribe a particular procedure for the determination of whether a person is a refugee, where an individual assessment is the preferred approach, any procedures must be fair and efficient.


Indian stand on UNHCR Convention:

  • India has signed neither the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention nor its 1967 Protocol, which has 140 signatories.
  • India continues to host a large population of refugees. In the main, they are treated kindly.
  • Security Concern: borders in South Asia are extremely porous and any conflict can result in a mass movement of people. This can have two results:
    • a strain on local infrastructure and resources in countries that are poorly equipped to deal with sudden spikes in population.
    • it can upset the demographic balance, a tinderbox in South Asia.
  • India already does its duty, so where’s the need to sign this piece of paper? It mostly doesn’t even take UN money to look after the refugees.
  • India retains a degree of scepticism about the UNHCR. This apparently flows from the Bangladesh war of 1971. As it doesn’t perceive the role of UNHCR as fair and neutral.


Challenges associated with signing the convention:

  • India will be bound by law not to repatriate a single refugee against their It’s known as the non-refoulement principle—no forcible repatriation. 
  • The Convention requires the signatory nation to accord a minimum standard of hospitality and housing towards those it accepts as refugees. Failure to provide the minimum continues to attract a lot of international criticism for host nations even today.


Challenges with the refugees

  • Social consequences of permitting refugees: By permitting refugees India might face many social consequences. Such as,
    • Refugees might create an identity crisiswith the indigenous people. For example, the refugees from Bangladesh currently in Assam and Arunachal threatens to overtake the indigenous population of the region.
    • Difficult to identify and deportthem back to their country after a few years. For example, the illegal migrants from Bangladesh and Rohingya refugees entered through North-East. But later they spread to all other states, like Haryana, Kerala, Telangana and UTs like Jammu and Kashmir, Delhi, etc. Identifying them among more than a billion Indians is a great challenge.
  • Economic consequence of permitting refugees:
    • Increased financial responsibility of the state. According to the UNHCR report in 2014, there were more than 200,000 refugees in India. There are millions of illegal immigrants in India. India at present does not have the financial capacity to satisfy all their basic needs.
    • Decreases wage level and replace the native people. Since illegal immigrants and refugees require food and shelter, they also work at very low wages in their settling areas.  It impacts the lives of locals, as they don’t get adequate jobs.
  • Political consequence of permitting refugees:
    • Issue of illegal voting:The illegal migrants to avail the benefits, procure illegal national identity cards such as voter id. By procuring that, they also vote in elections and influence the outcome.
    • Issue of terrorism: These refugees, since not accepted by governments, are vulnerable to join Pakistani based terror outfits for work and revenue.


Challenges Associated With India’s Refugee Policy

  • Refugees vs. Immigrants:In the recent past, many people from neighboring countries tend to illegally immigrate to India, not because of state persecution but in search of better economic opportunities in India.
  • While the reality is that much of the debate in the country is about illegal immigrants, not refugees, the two categories tend to get bunched together.
  • Due to this, policies and remedies to deal with these issues suffer from a lack of clarity as well as policy utility.
  • Ambiguity in the Framework:The main reason why our policies towards illegal immigrants and refugees are confused is that as per Indian law, both categories of people are viewed as one and the same and are covered under the Foreigners Act, 1946.
  • Ad-hocism:The absence of such a legal framework also leads to policy ambiguity whereby India’s refugee policy is guided primarily by ad hocism.
  • Ad hoc measures enable the government in office to pick and choose ‘what kind’ of refugees it wants to admit for whatever political or geopolitical reasons.
  • This results in a discriminatory action, which tends to be a violation of human rights.
  • Discriminatory CAA:The Government of India has passed the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). CAA envisages providing citizenship to people who are religious minorities in India’s neighborhood and persecuted by the state.
  • However, CAA is not the answer to the refugee problem primarily because of its deeply discriminatory nature, as it doesn’t include a particular religion under its ambit.
  • Further, many political analysts have dubbed the CAA as an act of refugee avoidance, not refugee protection.


  • In spite of not being a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, India has been one of the largest recipients of refugees in the world. However, if India had domestic legislation regarding refugees, it could have deterred any oppressive government in the neighborhood to persecute their population and make them flee to India.