Last Updated: Friday, 19 September 2014, 13:55 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants World Refugee Survey 2007 - India

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 11 July 2007
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants World Refugee Survey 2007 - India, 11 July 2007, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/469638821e.html [accessed 21 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Refoulement/Physical Protection

India reportedly deported a number of Myanmarese from Mizoram State, but the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had no access to them and was not able to determine if they were seeking asylum. Indian police also attempted to turn a Myanmarese asylum seeker over to the Myanmarese embassy in New Delhi, but officials there refused to accept him. India also deported a number of Bhutanese refugees to Nepal, where the Government confined them to camps after they tried to cross the Indo-Bhutanese border.

India was not party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and had no refugee law but, in 1996, its Supreme Court ruled that the 1950 Constitution's guarantees of life and personal liberty protected refugees from refoulement. India's Citizenship Amendment Act of 2003 defined all non-citizens who entered without visas as illegal migrants, with no exception for refugees or asylum seekers. India treated refugees differently depending on their nationality. It generally granted Tibetans and Sri Lankan Tamils protection. Nepalis could enter India freely and those with documentation enjoyed most of the rights of Indian citizens under the 1950 Peace and Friendship treaty between the two countries. Other refugees had to travel to New Delhi to reach UNHCR, which had no presence at the borders, and which some refugees reported to be neither fair nor prompt in its status determinations.

India requested that UNHCR not register any Bhutanese asylum seekers as refugees, because a 1949 agreement between India and Bhutan (updated in February 2007) granted them legal residence and most rights on par with Indian nationals. Their Government, however, had expelled them and would not issue documents attesting to their Bhutanese citizenship.

Nearly 16,500 refugees arrived in Tamil Nadu from Sri Lanka during the year.

By the end of 2006, UNHCR had recognized about 11,600 refugees under its mandate. It recognized just over 1,200 asylum seekers during the year, granting refugee status to 550. More than 600 had pending claims at year's end. During 2006, 35 to 45 asylum seekers arrived in New Delhi monthly. The Government ordinarily issued residence permits to pre-2001 Afghan refugees and Myanmarese refugees recognized by UNHCR; other refugees generally did not receive official government documentation authorizing their residence in India. Registration with UNHCR took about seven months to a year to complete.

Refugees, especially ethnic Chin from Myanmar, were often unable to obtain police protection when they were victims of crimes. Chin women reported attempted rapes in June and July, with no investigation resulting.

India also hosted a number of Bangladeshi Hindus who Islamic extremists evicted from their land in Bangladesh and generally allowed them to live freely in West Bengal and Tripura States, although it considered them economic migrants. About 35,000 Chakma and Hajong refugees from Bangladesh lived in Arunachal Pradesh, awaiting Indian citizenship. Despite a 1996 Supreme Court decision in favor of this, the State Government resisted.

About 70 individuals with refugee status voluntarily returned to their country of origin with UNHCR's help. About 200 refugees resettled to third countries.

Detention/Access to Courts

India detained at least four refugees in West Bengal State on immigration charges, holding them past the completion of their trials. It released one of them, an Iraqi, to UNHCR, and two others from Myanmar obtained court orders directing their release to UNHCR. The Government detained five refugees and two asylum seekers in New Delhi on immigration charges and one refugee on other criminal charges.

In December, a Chin asylum seeker whose claim UNHCR had denied launched a hunger strike outside UNHCR's New Delhi office. UNHCR complained to the Indian police, who arrested him and attempted to turn him over to the Myanmarese embassy. When the embassy would not accept him, the police held him on immigration charges that could ultimately lead to five years in prison. India continued to operate two closed camps for Sri Lankans it alleged to be members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and their families but allowed no judicial oversight of these administrative decisions. India transferred at least 12 new arrivals there in 2006, two for suspected LTTE ties, and 10 for allegedly smuggling asylum seekers across the Palk Strait between Sri Lanka and India.

The Constitution reserved to citizens its protections against state discrimination on the bases of race, religion, place of birth, and other grounds, but extended to all persons its right to equality before the law and the equal protection of the law, protection of life and liberty, and prohibition of unlawful detention. The Foreigners Act contained broad powers of detention and made illegal entry into the country a crime punishable by up to five years in prison, with no exception for refugee or asylum seekers. The National Human Rights Commission was able to monitor detention facilities, but did not have a mandate specifically to protect refugees and asylum seekers. In New Delhi, UNHCR provided legal aid through an implementing partner.

The Government gave residence permits to many Afghans and Myanmarese. In Mizoram, Myanmarese Chin the police caught without documentation had to pay bribes of 200 to 500 rupees ($4.50 to $11) to avoid deportation. India issued identity documents to Tibetans and Sri Lankan Tamils that legalized their stay in the country. UNHCR provided the refugees it recognized with papers, but India did not officially recognize these. UNHCR also provided documentation to asylum seekers, which authorities generally respected.

Freedom of Movement/Residence

India maintained around 100 camps for destitute Sri Lankan refugees in Tamil Nadu. Residents were free to live outside them if they chose but had to return every two weeks for attendance and to receive aid. Those who lived in camps but worked outside had to return daily by 7 p.m. India required Sri Lankans and other recognized refugees living outside the camps to register with the nearest Foreigners Regional Registration Office, usually in the local police station. They had to remain in the district unless they received permission, usually granted for economic or other reasons, to move to another. Refugees in New Delhi and Faridabad regularly reported harassment by officials when they tried to change their registered residences, but UNHCR generally intervened to gain permission for them. Refugees with UNHCR papers only had difficulty leaving New Delhi. India did not permit Myanmarese refugees registered with UNHCR to live in its northeastern provinces, near the Myanmar border.

In order to rent apartments, Chin refugees in Mizoram State had to obtain letters from the local government and the Young Mizo Association (YMA), a local nationalist group with strong influence over the local government. The YMA illegally deported many Chin in 2003 when the Government considered issuing them work permits. Its members conducted inspections to make sure Chin had the required recommendation letters and deported those it found without them.

The Constitution reserved to citizens its rights of freedom of movement and choice of residence. The Foreigners Act and the 1948 Foreigners Order implementing it gave the Government the power to force all foreigners, including refugees and asylum seekers, to "reside in a particular place" and "[impose] any restrictions on [their] movements" and to prosecute criminally anyone aiding or abetting their escape.

India rarely issued international travel documents to long-term Tibetan refugees. The Foreigners Order also prohibited refugees and asylum seekers from leaving India without permission. At the end of 2006, India banned Tibetans who entered the country with valid visas and subsequently applied for residence permits from receiving international travel documents.

Right to Earn a Livelihood

Though there was no legal basis for doing so, India generally allowed Tibetan and Sri Lankan refugees to work. Sri Lankan refugees living in camps often had to turn over their Government aid to corrupt officials to leave the camp for work. Tibetans could obtain certification to practice professions, but other groups of refugees could not.

Refugees recognized by UNHCR had no access to legal employment, but often worked in the informal sector. Many worked as street vendors, a highly visible job which made it easy for police to extort money or goods from them. Employers often underpaid them, and landlords overcharged them because they knew the refugees could not report them.

The Constitution reserved to citizens its rights to work, practice professions, join unions, and operate businesses. As foreigners, refugees could not legally own land, but Tibetan refugees often acquired land with Indians acting as proxies. Refugees without documentation, including Nepalis, could not open back accounts.

Public Relief and Education

Much of the housing in Sri Lankan camps was of poor quality, but the Government gave residents subsidized rice and other goods. Government hospitals provided free medical services near the refugee camps. India's provision of public relief and assistance to Tamil refugees approached that of nationals. India gave no aid to Bangladeshi and other refugees whom it did not recognize.

Refugees had to wait nearly two months for UNHCR reimbursement for medical visits, and this was generally not available for private hospital visits.

All refugees with Government permission to stay in the country had full access to local schools. UNHCR provided language training to assist children in making the transition to Indian schools. Children of families without Government permits had to rely on reimbursement from UNHCR for school fees. Children of Sri Lankan Tamil refugees in Tamil Nadu attended primary school free of charge and received one daily meal, free textbooks, bus passes, and school uniforms. Parents received financial assistance if they lived in one of the refugee camps. Nepalis with documentation could freely attend public schools, but those without had to pay for private schools.

India did not allow UNHCR or NGOs to enter Mizoram State, but, in May, a new State Government in Tamil Nadu granted both national and international agencies access to refugee camps. The Foreigners Act authorized the central Government to restrict access to aliens it designated to particular areas.

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