Why in news: Union Housing Minister Hardeep Singh Puri tweeted that Rohingya refugees would be moved to flats meant for economically weaker sections (EWS), and delivered with basic amenities and police security.
The Minister said, “India respects & follows the UN Refugee Convention 1951 & provides refuge to all, regardless of their race, religion or creed.”
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) under Amit Shah published a clarification announcing that no such suggestion had been provided to provide EWS flats to “Rohingya illegal foreigners”.
What is the UN Convention on Refugees?
The UN Convention on Refugees is an international convention that belongs to refugee security worldwide. It was approved in 1951 and enrolled into force in 1954. There has been one modification to the convention in the form of the 1967 Protocol.
The Convention spells out clearly who a refugee is and what kind of assistance, rights, and legal protection a refugee is allowed to receive. It also enacts the responsibilities of refugees toward the host countries. The Convention also indicates specific classifications of people, such as war criminals, who do not qualify for refugee status.
Rohingya Muslims in India
- Rohingya Muslims are described by the United Nations as the most persecuted minority in the world.
- They fled their homes in 2017 to escape an alleged crackdown by the Myanmarese military.
- To escape discrimination and violence in Myanmar, minority Rohingya Muslims have for decades fled from the Buddhist-majority country to neighbouring Bangladesh and other countries, including India.
Need for Refugee Protection Framework:
- Need for Refugee Protection Framework: In spite of not being a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, India has been one of the largest recipients of refugees in the world.
- Therefore, if India had domestic legislation regarding refugees, it could have deterred any oppressive government in the neighbourhood from persecuting their population and making them flee to India.
- SAARC Framework on Refugees: India should take the initiative to encourage other countries in the South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) to develop a SAARC convention or declaration on refugees.
What is the process of removal?
According to the MHA, illegal immigrants are detected, detained and deported under provisions of the Passport Act, 1920 or the Foreigners Act, 1946.
The powers to identify and deport them have also been delegated to State governments and Union Territories. Once a ‘foreigner’ has been apprehended by the police for staying illegally, without any document, he or she is produced before the local court. If the accused is found guilty, they can be imprisoned for three months to eight years.
After completing their sentence, the court orders deportation. The foreign inmates are moved to detention centres till the country of origin verifies and accepts them.
In 2018, seven Rohingya were deported to Myanmar. It was the first time that Myanmar issued a certificate of identity to the seven Rohingya. They had been picked up in Assam in 2012. After they were moved to a detention centre from prison, they wrote to the Myanmar Embassy in 2016, expressing their desire to return to their country and gave an undertaking that they were returning out of their free will.
According to advocacy group Human Rights Watch (HRW), since October 2018, India has deported 12 Rohingya to Myanmar, “claiming that they left voluntarily.” “However, the government denied repeated requests by UNHCR to gain access to them to independently assess whether the decision was voluntary,” HRW said.
In December 2017, the then Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju informed Parliament that there are around 40,000 Rohingya in India, of which around 5,700 are in Jammu and also in Telangana, Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, and Rajasthan. Of these, only 16,000 are said to be registered with the UN refugee agency.
The MHA insisted that the actual number is not known as many of them enter the country.
In 2017, the Border Security Force arrested 87 Rohingya along the Bangladesh border and 76 were pushed back to Bangladesh.
India is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol. All foreign undocumented nationals are governed as per the provisions of The Foreigners Act, 1946, The Registration of Foreigners Act, 1939, The Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920 and The Citizenship Act, 1955.
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