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United Nations High Commissioner For Refugees (UNHCR)

United Nations High Commissioner For Refugees (UNHCR):

The High Court of Manipur has ordered safe passage to seven Myanmar nationals, stranded at a border town in Manipur, to travel to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in New Delhi.

  • The seven nationals entered India secretly after the military coup in Myanmar.
  • The coup returned Myanmar to full military rule after a short span of quasi-democracy that began in 2011, when the military, which had been in power since 1962, implemented parliamentary elections and other reforms.

Observation made by Manipur HC:

  • Although India has no clear refugee protection policy or framework, it does grant asylum to a large number of refugees from the neighboring country.
  • India usually respects UNHCR’s recognition of the status of such asylum seekers, mainly from Afghanistan and Myanmar.
  • Though India is not a party to the UN Refugee Conventions, it is a party to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1966.
  • Article 21 of the Constitution encompasses the right of non-refoulment.
  • Non-refoulement is the principle under international law that states that a person fleeing persecution from his own country should not be forced to return to his own country.

Free Movement Regime (FMR):

  • A Free Movement Regime (FMR) exists between India and Myanmar.
  • Under FMR, every member of the hill tribes, who is either a citizen of India or a citizen of Myanmar and who is resident of any area within 16 km on either side of the Indo-Myanmar Border (IMB) can cross the border with a border pass (with one-year validity) issued by the competent authority and can stay up to two weeks per visit.

Recent Influx of People from Myanmar:

  • India already has a lot of Rohingya migrated from Myanmar.
  • Rohingyas are ethnic Muslims of Myanmar living in Rakhine province in the Arakan region.
  • About 1,68,000 Rohingyas had fled Myanmar since 2012 when clashes with Buddhists erupted in the trouble-torn Arakan region.
  • Since the Myanmar Army seized power on 1st February 2021, there has been an influx of people into India’s north-eastern states.
  • Many of them are democracy activists belonging to the Chin ethnic group, or policemen who said they disobeyed orders to shoot at protesters.
  • India has welcomed refugees in the past, and to date, nearly 3,00,000 people here are categorized as refugees. But India is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention or its1967 Protocol. Nor does India have a refugee policy or a refugee law of its own.
  • This has allowed India to keep its options open on the question of refugees. The government can declare any set of refugees as illegal immigrants — as has happened with Rohingya despite the UNHCR verification — and decide to deal with them as trespassers under the Foreigners Act or the Indian Passport Act.
  • The closest India has come to a refugee policy in recent years is the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019, which discriminates between refugees on the basis of religion in offering them Indian citizenship.

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