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Kuki-Chin Refugees and the Refugee Crisis in India

Context

According to media reports, several Kuki-Chin refugees were “pushed back” by Border Security Force (BSF) personnel at the Indo-Bangladesh border in Mizoram.

Relevance:

GS Paper -1: Population and associated issues.

GS Paper-2: India and its neighborhood- relations; Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.

Mains Question

Give an account of India’s refugee policy. Propose solutions to the increased influx of refugees in India’s north-eastern region. (250 words)


Background

  • Following an intensive operation by Bangladeshi security forces against militants, hundreds of refugees have arrived in Mizoram from Bangladesh.
  • According to government officials, these refugees, mostly from the Kuki-Chin community, crossed the border at Lawngtlai in south Mizoram, near the trijunction of India, Myanmar, and Bangladesh.
  • The issue has been politicised on the grounds that the Kuki-Chin are ‘ethnic Mizos,’ and thus are not allowed to enter Mizoram by the BSF.
  • Although BSF officials denied the claims and stated that the refugees were given food and medical supplies, they left after being told that entering India would result in them being considered illegal immigrants.

1951 Refugee Convention

  • The 1951 Refugee Convention is a United Nations treaty that defines who a refugee is and establishes the rights of those who are granted asylum.
  • It is the primary legal document that governs the UNHCR’s operations.
  • It is also known as the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees or the Geneva Convention of July 28, 1951.
  • The Convention is both a status and a rights-based instrument, and it is founded on several fundamental principles, the most important of which are non-discrimination, non-penalization, and non-refoulement.
    • Non-refoulement is a fundamental principle of international law that prohibits a country receiving asylum seekers from returning them to a country where they would face persecution based on “race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.”
  • India is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention.

What exactly are Kuki-Chins?

  • Kuki-Chin is a Christian community in the Chittagong hill tracts of Bangladesh (CHT).
  • It has close ethnic ties to Mizoram and is predominantly Christian.
  • Although Gangte, Hmar, Paite, Thadou, Vaiphei, Zou, Aimol, Chiru, Koireng, Kom, Anal, Chothe, Lamgang, Koirao, Thangal, Moyon, and Monsang are members of the Chin-Kuki group.
    • The term Chin refers to the people of Myanmar’s neighbouring Chin state, whereas Chins in India are known as Kukis.
    • Other groups, such as Paite, Zou, Gangte, and Vaiphei, identify as Zomi and have rejected the name Kuki.
  • The refugees were discovered in November 2022, following an operation by the Bangladesh Rapid Action Battalion against some of the group’s insurgents.

Why are Bangladeshi forces attacking the Kuki-Chins?

  • A dozen Buddhist and Christian ethnic groups collectively known as the Jumma people live in Bangladesh’s CHT.
  • The Kuki-Chins have organised themselves under the umbrella of the Kuki-Chin National Front (KNF), which was formed to carve out an autonomous state encompassing areas from Rangamati to Bandarban in Bangladesh’s CHT and safeguard the community’s interests.
  • To achieve its objectives, the Kuki-Chin National Front (KNF) employs the Kuki-Chin National Army (KNA) as its armed wing.
  • The KNA is accused of having ties to an Islamist group, forming alliances with rebel groups in India’s northeast and Myanmar, engaging in cross-border activities, and murdering civilians in Bangladesh.
  • In the guise of all these allegations, Bangladeshi forces’ Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) has launched attacks on groups, arrested community members, and been on the offensive for the last ten months.

What is India’s role?

  • Ties with North East India are strong.
    • Many of these refugees, like the others, have strong religious and cultural ties with Indians in the North East.
    • Many are also involved in commerce and interpersonal relationships.
    • As a result, the government is sometimes pressed by locals to provide passage and refuge to such migrants.
  • Political consequences
    • When elected representatives from the North East politicise the issue and advocate for the refugee status of such migrants, the government is forced to concede.
    • For Instance in this case a Rajysabha MP is pressing for the safe passage of these Kuki-Chin refugees citing ‘discrimination on ethnic grounds’.

Refugees’ Impact in India

  • Undermined national security o Illegal immigrants and refugees undermine national integrity in numerous ways, have serious ramifications for national security, and pose serious security threats.
  • Issues of Law and Order
    • Illegal migrants who engage in illegal and anti-national activities undermine the rule of law and the country’s integrity.
    • They are illegally entering the country, fraudulently obtaining identity cards, exercising voting rights in India, and engaging in trans-border smuggling and other criminal activities.
  • Human trafficking o In recent decades, women’s trafficking and human smuggling have become quite common across borders.
    • Poverty and hunger force either the girls’ parents to sell them to traffickers or the girls themselves to flee and become victims of traffickers.
  • Conflict of Interests o It has an impact on local populations in areas experiencing large-scale influxes of illegal immigrants.
  • Militancy on the Rise o In Assam, persistent attacks on Muslims perceived to be illegal migrants have led to radicalisation.
    • As a result, militant organisations such as the Muslim United Liberation Tigers of Assam have emerged (MULTA).

High Commissioner for Refugees of the United Nations (UNCHR)

  • A UN Refugee Agency is the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
  • It is a global organisation dedicated to saving lives, defending rights, and constructing a better future for refugees, forcibly displaced communities, and stateless people.
  • It was founded in 1950 to assist millions of Europeans who had fled or lost their homes.
    • Its headquarters are in Geneva, Switzerland.

In India, a framework for dealing with refugees has been developed.

  • Provisions in the Constitution
    • Article 51 states that the state shall strive to promote respect for international law and treaty obligations in organised people’s dealings with one another, but there is no specific provision for refugees.
    • Although the Indian Constitution makes law and order a state subject, international relations and international borders are solely the responsibility of the Union government.
  • Legal requirements
    • India is not a signatory to the 1951 United Nations Convention or the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, and it currently lacks a national law governing refugees.
    • Refugee issues are addressed by existing laws governing Indian citizenship, such as the Citizenship Act of 1955, Land Acquisition Acts, Foreigner’s Tribunals of 1964, and some specific procedures such as NRC in Assam and Multipurpose Identity Card, among others.

Conclusion

  • Despite being a developing and populous country, India has always been generous to refugees; however, given current geoeconomic and geopolitical developments, such a policy cannot be sustained indefinitely.
  • There is an urgent need for India to develop a clear policy and legislation for dealing with cross-border refugees.

February 2024
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