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In numbers and dimensions, the global refugee crisis and India's refugee saga, from 1947 to 2017

  • Category
    International Relations
  • Published
    26th Dec, 2019


The first Global Refugee Forum (GRF) was held in Geneva, Switzerland, jointly hosted by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the United Nations Refugee Agency, and the Government of Switzerland.

Background/Outcomes of the report

  • Globally, more than two-thirds of all refugees come from five countries: Syria (6.7 million), Afghanistan (2.7 million), South Sudan (2.3 million), Myanmar (1.1 million), and Somalia (0.9 million).
  • According to the UN, by the end of 2018, there were around 70.8 million people around the world who had left their home countries because of conflict and persecution. Of these 70.8 million, roughly 30 million are refugees.
  • Countries in the developed regions host 16 per cent of refugees; one-third of the refugee population (6.7 million people) are in the Least Developed Countries.
  • The largest host countries are Turkey (3.7 million), Pakistan (1.4 million), Uganda (1.2 million), Sudan (1.1 million), and Germany (1.1 million).
  • According to the UN’s Global Trends report, there are 37,000 new displacements every day.
  • In 2018, 13.6 million people were newly displaced due to conflict and or persecution.

Who is a refugee?

  • The UN defines refugees as those individuals that have fled their own countries because of persecution, war or violence.
  • “A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Most likely, they cannot return home or are afraid to do so. War and ethnic, tribal and religious violence are leading causes of refugees fleeing their countries”.
  • Refugees are defined and protected in international law. The 1951 Refugee Convention is a key legal document and defines a refugee as: “someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.”

Who is an internally displaced person?

  • An internally displaced person (IDP) is a person who has been forced to flee his or her home for the same reason as a refugee, but remains in his or her own country and has not crossed an international border. Unlike refugees, IDPs are not protected by international law or eligible to receive many types of aid.

Current refugee crises across the globe

  • In Burundi in East Africa, a humanitarian crisis is unfolding. Economic decline, outbreak of disease, and food insecurity have led to displacements within and outside the country to neighbouring countries including Rwanda, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Tanzania.
  • An estimated 5.6 million people from Syria have left the country since 2011, seeking refuge in neighbouring Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan among other countries.
  • Turkey hosts the largest number of Syrian refugees at roughly 3.3 million. According to UNHCR, the majority of the Syrians in neighbouring countries live in the urban areas, while roughly 8 per cent live in refugee camps.
  • Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar fled the country after violence broke out in the country’s Rakhine state. An estimated 6.7 lakh crossed over to neighbouring Bangladesh.
  • Other countries and regions facing a refugee situation include Europe, Yemen, Central America, Africa, South Sudan, Venezuela, DR Congo, and Nigeria.

Current Refugee situation in India

  • India does not have a separate statute for refugees, and until now has been dealing with refugees on a case-by-case basis.
  • India is not a signatory to the 1951 Convention on Refugees or the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees.
  • Union government circulated to all states and Union Territories a Standard Operating Procedure to deal with foreign nationals who claimed to be refugees.
  • Rohingya started to arrive in India’s northeast following stepped-up persecution by the Myanmarese armed forces.
  • Rohingya presence in the country has serious national security ramifications and it poses national security threats.
  • There is a serious possibility of eruption of violence against Buddhists who are Indian citizens and who stay on Indian soil by radicalised Rohingyas.

India's refugee saga, from 1947 to 2017

In the seven decades since it became an independent country, India has seen and largely welcomed waves of migrants fleeing conflict in neighbouring nations.

  • Indo-Pakistan partition period: It started with Partition itself, though people who crossed over the newly formed boundaries between India and Pakistan—by choice or forcibly—didn’t lose their nationalities; they were still forced to live the lives of a refugee. Refugee camps across north India served as homes for those who had borne the brunt of Partition.
  • Tibetan refugee: The next major movement of refugees towards India happened almost a decade after Partition, in 1959, when the Dalai Lama, along with more than 100,000 followers, fled Tibet and came to India seeking political asylum. Granting asylum to them on humanitarian grounds proved costly to India, As a result, Sino-Indian relations took a major hit. Border issues between the two countries, and Chinese encroachment on Indian Territory, began to crop up with greater frequency.
  • The Bangladeshi refugee: The next major refugee crisis happened during Bangladesh's war of independence in 1971, when millions of refugees migrated from the country to India, fleeing the conflict between the Pakistani army and Bangladeshi forces. This led to a sudden spike in population in states bordering Bangladesh. According to some estimates, more than 10 million Bangladeshi refugees escaped in 1971 and took shelter in India.
  • The Sri Lankan Tamil refugees: Another sizeable group of refugees in India comprises Sri Lankan Tamils who abandoned the island nation in the wake of active discriminatory policies by successive Sri Lankan governments, events like the Black July Riots of 1983, and the bloody Sri Lankan civil war. Mostly these refugees, who number over a million, settled in the state of Tamil Nadu.
  • The Afghan refugees: While not one of the larger refugee groups in the country, a number of Afghans also took shelter in India after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. Small groups of Afghan refugees kept coming to India in subsequent years. These refugees are mostly concentrated in and around Delhi, and have largely established spaces for themselves.
  • The Rohingya refugees: 40,000 Rohingya Muslims escaped Myanmar to take shelter in India. However, India has categorized the Rohingya as illegal immigrants and a security threat, siding with the Burmese government. The Indian government has stated that the principle of non-refoulement, or of not forcing refugees to return to their country of origin, does not apply to India principally as it is not a signatory to the 1951 refugees convention.
  • The Chakma and Hejong refugees: Many from the Chakma and Hajong communities—who once lived in the Chittagong hill tracts, most of which are located in Bangladesh—have been living as refugees in India for more than five decades, mostly in the North-East and West Bengal. According to the 2011 census, 47,471 Chakmas live in Arunachal Pradesh alone.

New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants

  • Adopted at UNGA
  • The declaration expresses the political will of world leaders to protect the rights of refugees and migrants to save lives and share responsibility for large movements on a global scale.

Some Consequences

  • The refugees also have an impact on the economy and society of their host nations.
  • Large number of refugees can have a devastation impact on the host nation.
  • Large number of refugees actually loses their lives while trying to reach different countries which might take them.
  • They could be used by terrorist organisations, sex or slave trade etc., thus denial of basic human rights, disruption of global peace.
  • It is often seen that immigrants are exploited for their cheap labour.
  • Immigration sometimes also becomes social or political issue; racism is used to exploit feelings or as an excuse for current woes of the local population.

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