THE CONTEXT: Myanmar has recently witnessed the mass killing of people who were protesting against the military coup. Thousands of people were forced to flee Myanmar to save their lives from the Myanmarese Army, Junta. This has increased India’s concern about security because many times, along with the refugee and asylum seekers many miscreants enter our borders who may pose a security threat to India. This issue has also increased the threat of scarcity of resources and a greater burden on the management of refugees in India.
ABOUT THE PRESENT CRISIS IN MYANMAR
- Myanmar has witnessed a Military coup leading to a forced regime change. It was orchestrated by Min Aung Hlang, the leader of the coup that has overthrown the democratically elected government of the National League for Democracy (NLD) headed by Aung San Su Kyi.
WHO IS A REFUGEE?
- Article 1 of the 1951 United Nations Convention defines ‘refugee’ as “A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.”
CATEGORIES OF FOREIGNERS
- There are four well-defined groups of foreigners who are different from ‘refugees’. These categories are Temporary Residents, Tourists and Travellers, Illegal Economic Migrants, Criminals, Spies, Infiltrators, Militants, and Internally Displaced Persons (IDP).
WHO CAN CLAIM A REFUGEE STATUS?
- Anyone can claim a refugee status provided that the claimant must provide evidence in support of the grounds of persecution or fear thereof resulting in flight from the country of origin.
- The documentation may be in the form of an identity card of employment with some governmental agency in the country of origin, or an identity card indicating membership in a particular group.
HOW IT TURNS INTO A REFUGEE CRISIS AND THREATS TO INDIA’S INTEREST
- The crackdown by the Junta on protesting people has led to the killing of a huge number of people in Myanmar.
- These people are now under the threat of life and they are facing an existential threat. So, to run out the risk of life, people have started entering bordering countries illegally.
- While law and order is a State subject under the Indian Constitution, international relations and international borders are under the exclusive purview of the Union government which is viewing it as a national security issue.
- Even though India has been the home for a large number and variety of refugees throughout the past, it has dealt with the issues on a bilateral basis.
PAST REFUGEE ISSUES INCLUDING ROHINGYA AND GOI RESPONSES SO FAR
- There have been multiple instances where India has faced issues related to illegal immigration. Although India has historically been upholding its ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ philosophy, the present level of the refugee crisis is unprecedented.
- The burden of refugees becomes double because of the double burden of the pathetic situation of job security for Indians and COVID-19 crisis.
- In the case of Myanmar, we witness that the authorities are trying to sign agreements with the different groups; India hopes that the Rohingya problem which is of a different nature will also be sorted out soon.
WHAT IS A REFUGEE POLICY AND WHY DOES INDIA NEED TO HAVE ONE?
- Refugee policy is a long-term policy statement that defines who can be considered a refugee and what rights should be available to them in India.
- Although India has given shelter to many people who were looking for refuge and political asylum, India does not have a dedicated comprehensive document on long term refugee policy.
- India currently follows the policy of strategic ambiguity. This policy allows India to be at a more advantageous position as it can decide the issue of refugee on a case-to-case basis by strategically deciding the case where we can allow refugees to be provided shelter in India and in which case we can restrict them from entering India.
GLOBAL REFUGEE CRISIS
- Globally, millions of people are forced to leave their homeland because of political persecution, environmental hazards, etc.
- Trends on all major indicators have since the late 1970s pointed towards an increasingly serious world refugee situation.
- For understanding the dynamics of the problem, the political and military activities of the refugees and the processes through which refugee situations are internationalized are also singled out for particular consideration.
INDIA AND UNHCR ON REFUGEES
- India is not party to the 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol and does not have a national refugee protection framework. India continues to grant asylum to a large number of refugees from neighbouring States and respects UNHCR’s mandate for other nationals, mainly from Afghanistan and Myanmar.
- While the Government of India deals differently with various refugee groups, in general, it respects the principle of non-refoulement for holders of UNHCR documentation.
- Internationally, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees looks after the issue of the refugee crisis. However, this body works on a consultation and cooperation basis. It cannot in itself provide shelter to refugees. They need the support and cooperation of various state governments to take up refugees and provide them livelihood opportunities.
PROBLEMS FACED BY INDIA IN MANAGING REFUGEES
- The rise in the number of these refugees and asylum-seekers has not been accompanied by a commensurate increase in resources, compelling UNHCR to find innovative ways to meet both existing and emerging protection needs.
- Refugees and asylum-seekers often live in poverty, dispersed in urban areas, where they can face violence and exploitation.
OPTIONS FOR INDIA
1. Show generosity by accomodating those Myanmarese who entered into India for shelter and livelihood as Refugees in India –
- India with its history, culture, and traditions, is today an example of generosity in the way it has opened its borders to all people who have come looking for safety and sanctuary.
- This option will showcase that India understands the issue of the humanitarian needs of the persecuted people of Myanmar.
- It will uphold the age-old principle of ‘vasudhaiva kutumbakam’ which India has been adhering to from time immemorial.
- It will increase the burden of resources on India and at the same time, it will increase the risk of threat to security for India.
This option should be exercised because India will be able to save innocent lives who are in need of shelter and food. If a proper check is maintained in the bordering areas, the issue of security threats can be reduced to a greater extent.
2. Send back the illegal entrants to their country of origin –
- India can send back the illegal Myanmarese entrants to their country of origin by expelling them from the borders.
- This option will reduce the burden of illegal immigrants in India.
- India will not face the issue of threat to security and resources because of refugees.
- It will be against the international norm of the ‘principle of non-refoulment’.
- This option shows India as a state that does not have empathy towards those people who are in need of support and generosity from the Indian Government.
- It will invite criticism from Human Rights Watch groups, United Nations Organisation, other countries as well as Indians.
So, India should not allow such an action that shows India as a state with an apathetic approach.
Hence, India should provide temporary shelter to illegal immigrants till the present crisis is reduced and meanwhile it can formulate a long-term refugee policy. This is the middle path for India. It allows time for India to draw a proper policy document while managing the present refugee crisis in the best possible manner.
- The governments of the country of origin need to do more to create conditions for people to feel comfortable about considering the possibility of returning.
- India should have a framework for long-term refugee policy that can take care of the issues related to refugees and asylum seekers in India.
- India can also think of accomodating the refugees of Myanmar by amending its Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 to encompass minorities from Myanmar into the citizenship provisions.
- Considering the nature of globalisation and the interconnected world, India can look forward to signing the UN Refugee Convention, 1951.