Context:

The High Court of Manipur allowed seven Myanmar nationals, who entered India secretly following the February military coup in Myanmar, to travel to New Delhi to seek protection from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Relevance:

GS-II: International Relations (Important International Institutions, Foreign Policies and Agreements)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
  2. International Laws in relation with handling Refugees
  3. About the Manipur HC order
  4. How refugees are treated / have been treated in India?
  5. What is the role of Indian Judiciary in protecting refugees?

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is a UN agency mandated

  • To aid and protect:
    • refugees,
    • forcibly displaced communities, and
    • stateless people, and
  • To assist in their:
    • voluntary repatriation,
    • local integration or
    • resettlement to a third country.
  • The UNHCR was established in 1950 in the wake of the mass displacements caused due to the Second World War in Europe.
  • Since then, it has provided relief to thousands of refugees and displaced persons in many parts of the world – and also won the Nobel Prize for Peace twice (1954 and 1981).
  • The chief legal document that governs the work of the UNHCR is the 1951 Refugee Convention and its parent organisation is the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).

It is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland and works in 135 countries and in India, has offices in New Delhi and Chennai.

International Laws in relation with handling Refugees

  • Even though the refugees are foreigners in the country of asylum, by virtue of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), 1966, they could enjoy the same fundamental rights and freedoms as nationals.
  • The 1951 Refugee Convention asserts that a refugee should not be returned to a country where they face serious threats to their life or freedom, and the core principle of the convention is non-refoulement. (Refoulement means the forcible return of refugees or asylum seekers to a country where they are liable to be subjected to persecution.)

About the Manipur HC order

  • Though India is not a party to the UN Refugee Conventions, the court observed that the country is a party to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1966.
  • The court said: The far-reaching and myriad protection afforded by Article 21 of our Constitution, as interpreted and adumbrated by our Supreme Court time and again, would indubitably encompass the right of non-refoulement. [Non-refoulement is the principle under international law that a person fleeing from persecution from his own country should not be forced to return.]

How refugees are treated / have been treated in India?

  • India hosts over 2,00,000 refugees, victims of civil strife and war in Tibet, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Myanmar. Some refugees, the Tibetans who arrived between 1959 and 1962, were given adequate refuge in over 38 settlements, with all privileges provided to an Indian citizen excluding the right to vote).
  • The Afghan refugees fleeing the civil war in the 1980s live in slums across Delhi with no legal status or formal documents to allow them to work or establish businesses in India.
  • The Foreigners Act (1946) and the Registration of Foreigners Act (1939) currently govern the entry and exit of all refugees, treating them as foreigners without due consideration of their special circumstances.

What is the role of Indian Judiciary in protecting refugees?

  • Refugees have been accorded constitutional protection by the judiciary (National Human Rights Commission vs State of Arunachal Pradesh, 1996).
  • In addition, the Supreme Court has held that the right to equality (Article 14) and right to life and personal liberty (Article 21) extends to refugees.
  • India remains the only significant democracy without legislation specifically for refugees. A well-defined asylum law would establish a formal refuge granting process with suitable exclusions (war criminals, serious offenders, etc.) kept.

-Source: The Hindu

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