U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants World Refugee Survey 2006 - India



Refoulement/Physical Protection

During June and July, India deported nearly 100 Myanmarese refugees from the northeastern state of Mizoram. It ordered other Myanmarese refugees to leave the country under threat of criminal prosecution. The Government allowed neither human rights monitors nor the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) into the area.

Although the Supreme Court declared in 1996 that the Constitution's guarantees of life and personal liberty protected refugees from refoulement, India had no refugee law and treated groups of refugees differently based on their nationality. The Government recognized Tibetans from China and Tamils from Sri Lanka as refugees and issued them identity documents, although it provided permits automatically only to children of Tibetans who arrived before 1979. Newly arrived Tibetans had difficulty obtaining them.

The Government allowed some 15,000 ethnic Nepali, Hindu refugees from Bhutan to live freely in West Bengal and Assam but did not grant them permanent status.

The Government regarded Myanmarese and other refugees as ordinary immigrants. To receive refugee status under UNHCR's mandate, Myanmarese and other asylum seekers had to travel to New Delhi or Chennai. India neither granted UNHCR access to border areas nor to any of the refugee camps. Refugees reported waiting several weeks for UNHCR to register their claims, and up to five months for status determination interviews. Seven Myanmarese asylum seekers went on a hunger strike outside the UNHCR office in New Delhi, having waited three years for a response to their applications.

The Government allowed UNHCR access to refugees living in urban centers and in Tamil Nadu, but it did not formally recognize UNHCR's grants of refugee status. Local police threatened and extorted money from those who bore such status.

Poor Nepalis had traditionally migrated to India seasonally for work, but the escalation of the Maoist insurgency and the government-declared state of emergency in Nepal since late 2001 caused a dramatic increase in inflows, with more choosing not to return to Nepal. Between February and March, tens of thousands of Nepali villagers reportedly fled to India after Maoist retaliations for village militia resistance in Kapilvastu District. Nepalis did not need visas to enter India and the Government insisted that Nepalis did not need protection from UNHCR, as a 1950 India-Nepal treaty accorded them the same rights as Indians in all areas except voting.

UNHCR recognized about 10,400 Afghan refugees under its mandate in New Delhi, but did not recognize at least 20,000 similarly situated Afghans. According to UNHCR, some 2,700 Afghan refugees who had entered legally ten or more years ago were eligible to naturalize, although only one-fifth had applied due to large processing backlogs in the New Delhi State Government.

In Arunachal Pradesh, 35,000 stateless Chakma and Hajong refugees from Bangladesh had awaited Indian citizenship since 1964. Despite a 1996 Supreme Court decision granting them citizenship, the State Government resisted.

During the year, UNHCR assisted 1,200 Sri Lankan refugees in repatriating, and about 2,300 repatriated on their own. Renewed tensions in Sri Lanka caused 500 Sri Lankans to flee to India in early 2006. Some 300 refugees left for resettlement, two-thirds of them in Canada, mostly Afghans and Myanmarese.

Detention/Access to Courts

More than 30 Myanmarese Arakans whom authorities had been detaining since 1998 were at risk of refoulement, despite UNHCR's interventions on their behalf. Authorities detained two mandate refugees in West Bengal, where they awaited deportation to Iran and Myanmar following completion of their trials. UNHCR was able to visit only one of them. In May in New Delhi, authorities arrested and beat several Myanmarese women under suspicion of being prostitutes, as they tried to gather leftover vegetables from a market at night. In July, authorities arrested 50 Myanmarese on various charges, including drug trafficking and illegal entry as part of a crackdown in Mizoram.

India did not recognize refugee status as grounds to waive the provisions of the 1946 Foreigners Act, which included penalties of up to five years for illegal entry and other immigration offenses. The Government did, however, grant Tibetans and Tamils identity documents that protected them from such arrests. Additionally, India granted residential permits to Myanmarese and pre-2001 Afghan refugees whom UNHCR recognized. Delays in issuing and renewing these permits, however, often put refugees at risk of arrest and harassment.

Refugees could use the courts to advance claims based on India's Bill of Rights, but the expense was beyond the means of most refugees and the process was inefficient.

Freedom of Movement and Residence

Mandate refugees had to seek permission from India's Foreigners Regional Registration Office (FRRO) to travel within the country. Many reported harassment by FRRO officials when seeking such permission. The Government prohibited Myanmarese living in New Delhi from traveling to the northeast, near the border with Myanmar. These refugees also had to register their places of residence with UNHCR and FRRO.

Most Sri Lankan refugees in Tamil Nadu enjoyed freedom to leave their camps, although India restricted 11 refugees suspected of militant ties to one camp. Residents of other camps in Tamil Nadu could leave but authorities required them to report to the camp every two weeks for attendance and to receive aid.

Tibetan refugees in settlement areas could leave at will and many did so for jobs.

The Government occasionally granted international travel permits to long-term Tibetan refugees, but this was rare and required intervention from UNHCR. On several occasions during the year, India turned back Bhutanese refugees attempting to pass through the strip of Indian territory that separated Nepal from Bhutan. In December, Indian police beat and injured 70 Bhutanese. India initially denied exit visas to two Uighur refugees from China, but following the intervention of the South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre and the National Human Rights Commission, it permitted them to leave for Sweden.

Right to Earn a Livelihood

India did not permit most refugees to work, open bank accounts, rent houses, or run businesses. Although some Myanmarese refugees worked in the informal sector, they did so without the protection of the law and were subject to arrest, detention, and deportation. Refugees reported workplace violations including harassment by Indian nationals, unpaid overtime, and sexual and gender-based violence.

The Government allowed Tibetan refugees to farm and run agro-industrial and handicraft enterprises. Some worked for the Government as schoolteachers, health workers, and employees of cooperatives, while others worked in hotels, restaurants, and shops. The Government allowed Bhutanese refugees to work freely. Other refugees had no right to work or run businesses. In Mizoram, activists affiliated with the Young Mizo Association (a local nongovernmental organization) issued notices to Myanmarese to close their businesses.

Nepali refugees were able to work, but received no labor protection. Employers often required them to work unpaid overtime and authorities did not respond to their complaints. Those without documents were also unable to open bank accounts.

Public Relief and Education

The Indian government and Central Tibetan Administration ran schools in which most Tibetan refugee children enrolled. The Central Tibetan Administration also established primary health centers in almost every settlement.

The Ministry of Home Affairs stated that the Government provided Sri Lankan refugees shelter in camps, clothing, subsidized rations, medical services, $20 (Rs. 900) per month per family, and educational assistance, and spent more than $18,700 (Rs. 840,000) on housing for Tibetans in Uttaranchal and Himachal Pradesh. Refugee children could attend Indian schools, but universities imposed a quota on refugee attendance.

The Government did not help Myanmarese refugees. Clinics assisted them in New Delhi but reported that UNHCR and its partner organizations did not regularly reimburse them. UNHCR phased out subsistence allowances and at least 20,000 unrecognized Afghan refugees received no assistance.

While the children of Nepali refugees had the right to free education, those who did not have proper documentation had to pay. Without valid residential permits, refugees were not eligible for assistance from UNHCR. Landlords were reluctant to grant proof of residence necessary for refugees to renew their residential permits, because landlords often tried to avoid paying taxes on their rent.


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