Half a century after opening the door to the Dalai Lama, one of the world’s most high-profile refugees, India is giving finishing touches to its first law specifying who can seek asylum and their rights.
India has become a second home for nearly 2 lakh refugees — from the followers of the Tibetan spiritual leader to the Sri Lankan Tamils — but has been reluctant to sign the 1951 Geneva Convention on Refugees.
New Delhi has refused to sign the convention since 1951 on ground that it did not strike a balance between the rights and obligations of countries receiving refugees and their country of origin.
In the Refugees and Asylum Seekers (Protection) Bill, the government will for the first time spell out its approach on refugees.
Officials said the law — piloted by the home ministry on the basis of the report of an inter-ministerial panel of officers — should be in place before the year-end.
“The discussions are almost complete. It should be ready for approval of the cabinet in a month or two,” a government official said.
In the absence of the legal framework, refugees are being treated under the Foreigners Act that gives the government absolute powers to expel foreigners, including refugees.
The definition of a refugee and their rights and obligations, would also enable the refugees to appeal against the decision of the government.