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Tag Archives | Syria

India needs a new refugee policy

India needs an asylum policy to be able to allocate resources appropriately, to monitor the sheltering of  refugees that it hosts, and to disallow unwanted infiltrators from entering its territory. 

By Manasa Venkataraman (@nasac)

Image Credit: Human Rights Watch: www.hrw.org

Image Source: www.hrw.org

Caught off guard by millions of persecuted Syrians fleeing to safer lands, last year saw countries react differently to the sudden influx. Over the past year, many states have taken varying stances on providing asylum to refugees arriving from strife-ridden regimes. Influx, legal or illegal, by refugees or migrants seeking better opportunities, is not new to India. Although it is unlikely that Syrian refugees land at Indian shores to seek asylum (due to geographical difficulties), India has hosted refugees from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan from time to time without having a central asylum regime governing the providing of such harbour.

India needs a refugee policy. The absence of such a framework in India makes it prone to inconsistent and ad-hoc reactions to refugee crises – an unsustainable solution. Although three separate bills have been tabled before the Indian Parliament to bolster the Indian asylum policy, they remain pending.

In order to frame a robust asylum granting framework, it is essential to examine the cause that gives rise to this migration – unstable political environments, insurgencies by non-state actors and the precarious footing on which feeble governments stand are principal reasons. Persistent situations like this lead people to abandon their homes and flee to safer lands. International law recognizes this plight of refugees and urges sovereign nations to follow a principle of “non-refoulement”, i.e., host countries should not refuse to shelter refugees and turn them away to the country they fled from. This principle is so inherent to the protection of human rights that it forms part of customary international practice to shelter refugees on humanitarian grounds.

While it is not a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention, 1951, India has followed the principle of non-refoulement whenever helpless asylum seekers have knocked on its doors. Nevertheless, it is essential to build regulations surrounding the non-refoulement principle that specify when the principle is to be invoked, what are the remedies for wrongful or non-invocation of the principle and how it is to be monitored.

Benchmark global practices are available for India to evaluate, before framing its own refugee policy. While Germany’s efforts earlier in 2015 opening its doors to refugees from Syria are well known, Australia has been criticized for having a controversial policy to cordon its coasts off to many asylum seekers. From providing “no benefits” to refugees upon their arrival on its coast to turning ships away to Indonesia and other South East Asian countries from international waters, Australia has undertaken several measures to create disincentives for refugees to take shelter on its territory.

India’s refugee policy must also strike a balance with its environmental and security related concerns in harbouring persons on its lands, especially via the seas. A refugee policy is only successful if India has the ability to control its borders, which in turn enables it in deciding whom it provides asylum to. As India’s coastline is vast and vulnerable, the need is felt now more than ever to create a robust and centralised coastal border patrolling and securing system.

Illegal and unregulated influx via the (already inadequately regulated) coasts are not only a blind spot in Indian national security but also interfere in the demographic makeup of the region. This affects it economically and politically as measures are framed bearing in mind the regulated persons in the region. Further, post facto regulation of immigrants becomes difficult as there was no law to regulate their entry in the first place.

As the protection of asylum seekers is a significant additional cost to the government, the refugee policy must introduce a system by which immigrants coming to India for economic or other gains are screened from persons seeking refugees. It is also advisable to place the refugees under the supervision of a Welfare or other ministry of the government rather than the military. In fact, smaller and less developed host countries (like Turkey and Jordan) are beginning to recognize the economic and infrastructural cost that is required to be borne to accord refugees the shelter they need.

Additionally, resettlement efforts must be made with the country from which such refugees arrive, after strife is over. Resettlement engagements may also be undertaken between India and other affluent countries that has better physical and economic infrastructure so that the refugee influx is better managed and does not cause a permanent strain on the resources of a less wealthy host country.

Manasa Venkataraman is a Research Associate at the Takshashila Institution and tweets from @nasac.

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Europe’s changing attitude in the refugee crisis

By Anita van den Brandhof

In the current refugee crisis, the developing nations carry the burden of hosting refugees, but there is an increasing pressure on Europe to host more refugees from Syria.

Never before in history has the number of refugees and displaced people within their own country been as high as today. At the end of 2014 there were 19.5 million refugees worldwide and 38.2 million internally displaced people (IDPs). The number of persons on the move is rising as the conflicts in the Middle East and Africa continue. In the current refugee crisis, the developing nations carry the burden of hosting refugees: 86 percent of the refugees and IDP’s worldwide live in developing nations. The majority of the refugees are hosted in bordering countries; mostly in overcrowded and undersupplied refugee camps with little hope for a better future. More than half of the refugees worldwide are from Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia. The five main hosting countries are Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, Iran and Ethiopia.  Europe is heavily debating on how to deal with the current refugee crisis, while neighbouring countries like Lebanon and Turkey host the majority of the refugees from Syria. There is a remarkable silence from the Gulf States, who are not hosting any Syrian refugees.

Main human smuggling routes to Europe. Source: The Economist

Main human smuggling routes to Europe. Source: The Economist

The international definition of the term “refugee” applies to any person who is:

“Owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”

So the term refugee does not apply to a person who migrates for better economic prospects, but to persons who are fleeing from war or persecution. However, the word ‘refugee’ has become more and more synonymous with migrants in Europe. For almost a decade the influence of right wing populist parties has been growing in Europe. These parties promoted parochial national interests, which was seen as fewer migrants and less European integration. Migrants were portrayed as a threat to the national culture and identity.  Due to the economic crisis many Europeans feared that migrants and refugees would take their jobs and benefit from the social welfare system. Therefore, refugees and migrants were discouraged from entering EU territory through tight border controls and strict migration laws.

The 6 lakh refugees that entered the EU in 2014 often reached Europe by crossing the Mediterranean Sea in dangerously small boats. Last year more than 2200 people drowned on the way, and 1,66,000 were rescued by the Italian marine. This year more than 2600 people have drowned already on their way to Europe. For a long time these tragic deaths were ignored, but nowadays Europe is forced to revise its migration policy. The pictures of the drowned little boy Aylan on the beach of Turkey showed the immorality of neglecting refugees at sea. The refugee crisis is hotly debated and the support to host more refugees is growing in Western European countries. Many public initiatives have started to host refugees in family homes and collect money. Germany is expecting 8 lakh refugees this year, and the German Chancellor Angela Merkel has stated that Germany can handle the influx of refugees.

The European Union has to respond to the refugee crisis and is preparing a new migration policy. In 2007 the European Union decided to harmonize the migration regulations of all member states. The process hasn’t been completed, because member states have a hard time giving up their sovereignty in this area. The Dublin regulation arranged that a refugee should apply for asylum in the member state of arrival. Because the main human smuggling routes arrive at Greece, Italy and Hungary, these countries have to deal with relatively more refugees than the other member states.  Therefore, the EU is negotiating with all member state to distribute the refugees more evenly. Since Germany agreed to take 8 lakh refugees from Syria this year, other countries are slowly agreeing to allow more refugees. The refugee crisis became a catalyst for discussing the righteousness of the current migration policy. Europe is forced to take more responsibility and become a more active political power in the crisis in the Middle East.

Anita van den Brandhof is a research scholar at Takshashila Institution.

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