Nearly 70 years after becoming an independent nation, India is preparing a uniform national asylum policy, instead of dealing with asylum matters on a case-to-case or nationality-to-nationality basis.
“The idea is to come with a specific law for asylum-seekers under the policy,” said a home ministry official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The objective of the policy is to formally define a refugee, eligibility for asylum, rights, entitlements and obligations and set a time-bound legal framework for naturalization, said the official.
“A law would also bring global recognition to India for its enduring commitment to refugee protection,” said Roshni Shanker, executive director of Ara Trust that works on refugee laws.
Congress MP Shashi Tharoor had earlier brought a private member’s bill on asylum in the winter session of Parliament last year. His bill sought to create a mechanism for granting asylum that would allow a more effective regulation over entry, exit, and stay of refugees, besides setting out obligations, duties, and rights.
“It is crucial that India ends the ad hoc nature of refugee policy,” says Shailesh Rai, senior policy advisor to Amnesty International India.
Rai said it is imperative that India becomes a state party to the UN refugee conventions and creates a robust domestic legal framework on refugee policy.
The United Nations high commissioner for refugees says India has around 2.1 lakh people of ‘concern’ and they include nationals from Afghanistan (13,381), Myanmar (18,914), Somalia, Tibet (1.1 lakh) and Sri Lankans (64,600).
The UNHCR works with refugees who are not from the neighbouring countries. The exception is Myanmar here. Refugees from neighbouring countries are dealt by the home ministry. India has a sizeable number of people from minority communities from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh who have been given long-term visa and citizenship.
MoS for home Kiren Rijiju told the Parliament in March : “India is not a signatory to the 1951 United Nations Convention on the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol thereon. There is no national law on refugees at present.”