Today's Editorial

Today's Editorial - 20 June 2024

Blueprints beyond borders, for solace and shelter

Relevance: GS Paper II

Why in News?

The problems of refugees demand international cooperation and India needs to live up to its image of serving ‘the still larger cause of humanity’

More detail about news:

  • The world currently has over 43.4 million refugees, and this number is increasing due to conflicts raging in different parts of the world.
  • As numbers rise, we risk seeing refugees as mere statistics rather than human beings with needs, fears, hopes, and desires. World Refugee Day (June 20) is a solemn reminder of the countless families whose lives have been uprooted, homes destroyed, and futures jeopardized.
  • It is also an occasion to acknowledge safe havens granted, asylum ensured, refugees protected, and solutions found.
  • India has a long history of granting asylum, dating back millennia, to various groups such as:
    • Jews who fled to India centuries before Christ after the demolition of their Jerusalem Temple by the Babylonians and later the Romans.
    • Zoroastrians fleeing Islamic persecution in Persia.
    • East Bengalis, for whose nationhood we waged war with Pakistan in 1971, leading to the liberation of Bangladesh.
    • Tibetans and Sri Lankan Tamils in more recent years.
    • Streams of Nepalis, Afghans, and Rohingyas seeking refuge in India.
  • As a nation that attained independence against the backdrop of one of the most horrific refugee crises in history, when 13 million to 15 million people crossed the borders between India and Pakistan, India is well aware of the perils that befall refugees and the need to help them rebuild their lives.

The pitch for suitable legislation

  • Despite India's glorious history of affording solace and shelter to refugees from the world over, it is ironic that India is not a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol, nor does it have a domestic asylum framework.
  • Whereas, with India’s history, we ought to lead the global march on the question of refugee rights, our present actions and lack of a legal framework does our heritage no credit, shames us in the eyes of the world, and fails to match up to our stellar past track record.
  • To address these gaps, in February 2022, M.P Shashi Tharoor, introduced a Private Member's Bill in the Lok Sabha seeking to enact a Refugee and Asylum law.
  • A private Member's Bill laid down comprehensive criteria for recognizing asylum seekers and refugees, prescribed their rights and duties, and aimed to honor the principle of non-refoulement (not forcibly returning refugees to places where they may face persecution).
  • The Asylum Bill of 2021 was introduced shortly after our government forcibly returned two groups of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar, despite knowing they faced severe persecution in their home country. By engaging in this act of "refoulement," which contravenes international law, our government demonstrated religious prejudice (since the refugees were Muslim) and intolerance.
    • The government has classified Rohingyas as "illegal migrants", with over 700 detained in poor conditions as of August 2023 until deportation.
    • The government has also been inhospitable to Chakmas in Arunachal and Myanmarese in Mizoram, 
  • Bill sought to put an end to such arbitrary conduct by the authorities. It afforded to all foreigners regardless of their nationality, race, or religion the right to seek asylum in India. It also called for the creation of a National Commission for Asylum to review and decide all such applications.
  • Having staunchly affirmed, with no exceptions, the principle of non-refoulement, M.P (Shashi Tharoor) specified reasons for exclusion, expulsion and revocation of refugee status, thus respecting the government's sovereign authority while limiting its discretion.

In a state of suspense

  • In the absence of a consistent and comprehensive law to deal with asylum seekers, India lacks a clear perspective on refugee management.
  • India has a flurry of laws like the Foreigners Act, Registration of Foreigners Act, Passports Act, Extradition Act, Citizenship Act (including its 2019 amendment), and Foreigners Order, which club all foreign individuals together as "aliens".
  • India has not subscribed to international conventions on refugees nor set up a domestic legislative framework, the problems of refugees are dealt with in an ad hoc manner, and they face the possibility of being deported like other foreigners.
  • Refugee protection should not be limited to just providing asylum, but also ensuring access to basic public services like medical facilities, educational institutions, and legally seeking jobs.
  • India should enact a National Asylum Law, such as the one presented to Parliament, which would have placed India at the forefront of asylum management in the world.
  • India currently hosts more than two lakh refugees, but the ruling party government's attitude towards the Rohingya and other "inconvenient" refugees risks putting India in the global doghouse.
  • The proposed Asylum Bill would have vindicated India's steadfast and immemorial commitment to humanitarian and democratic values while dealing with refugees.

Taking up the judiciary’s baton

  • In 1996, the Supreme Court of India held that not just Indians but everybody living in India, irrespective of nationality, enjoys the inviolable rights guaranteed by Articles 14, 20 and 21 of the Constitution of India. 
  • On these grounds, the apex court, in the landmark case of National Human Rights Commission vs State Of Arunachal Pradesh & Anr., stopped the forcible eviction of Chakma refugees who had entered Arunachal Pradesh in 1995. 
  • The Court held that an asylum application must be properly processed, and till a decision is made whether to grant or refuse asylum, the state cannot forcibly evict an asylum seeker. 
  • Our judiciary has shown us the golden path, but different judges' varied approaches, evident in the Rohingya case, highlight the need for clear refugee rights to reduce reliance on individual judgments or bureaucratic whims in the Home Ministry, police, and politics.


India should enact a National Asylum Law, such as the M.P Shashi Tharoor has presented to Parliament. We currently host more than two lakh refugees, but the Ruling party government’s churlish attitude to the Rohingya and other “inconvenient” refugees risks putting us in the global doghouse. Had it been enacted, The Asylum Bill would have placed India at the forefront of asylum management in the world. It would have vindicated our steadfast and immemorial commitment to humanitarian and democratic values while dealing with refugees.

Beyond editorial


  • The UN Refugee Agency was established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1950 in the aftermath of the Second World War to help the millions of Europeans who had fled or lost their homes. 
  • UNHCR is a global organization dedicated to protecting people forced to flee. It leads international action to protect refugees, deliver life-saving assistance, help safeguard fundamental human rights, and develop solutions that ensure people have a safe place to call home where they can build a better future.

The 1951 Refugee Convention:

  • The 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol are the key legal documents that form the basis of UNHCR’s work.
  • The 1951 Convention provides the internationally recognized definition of a refugee and outlines the legal protection, rights and assistance a refugee is entitled to receive. 
  • UNHCR serves as the ‘guardian’ of these documents. We also help governments translate them into national laws to ensure refugees are protected and can exercise their rights.
  • Core principles of the 1951 Convention - The core principle of the 1951 Convention 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.
  • The document outlines the basic minimum standards for the treatment of refugees, including the right to housing, work and education while displaced so they can lead a dignified and independent life. It also defines a refugee’s obligations to host countries and specifies certain categories of people, such as war criminals, who do not qualify for refugee status.
  • In addition, it details the legal obligations of the States that are party to one or both of these instruments.

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