NHRC online open forum unanimously pitches in for a national law to end adhocism and ambiguity in dealing with refugees and asylum seekers

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New Delhi: The National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, India today organized an on-line open discussion on the protection of the basic human rights of refugees and asylum seekers in India.

Mr Justice MM Kumar, Member, NHRC chaired the event attended on-line by NHRC Chairperson, Mr Justice Arun Mishra, Members, Mrs Jyotika Kalra, Mr Rajiv Jain, Secretary General,Mr Bimbadhar Pradhan, Registrar ( Law), Mr Surajit Dey, Joint Secretary, Mr HC Chaudhary and other senior officers, representatives of Union Ministries of Law, External Affairs and Home Affairs, UN Human Rights Council, domain experts, among others.

It was unanimously felt that though India had a very good track record and tradition of dealing with and handling the international refugees and asylum seekers since time immemorial, it is time a national law is enacted to  include all the best practices and policies so far to have in place a uniformity and legal sanctity to ensure protection and realization of human rights of refugees and asylum seekers across the country and help them seek the benefits of other welfare measures by the government even while taking care of the national security.

Earlier, inaugurating the open forum, Justice Kumar said that by the virtue of the Constitution of India, every citizen is entitled to basic human rights. The Article 14, 20 and 21 of the Constitution also extend some rights to any person, including the refugees and asylum seekers. But their permit to stay in the country cannot be extended for time immemorial without acquiring citizenship, as also observed by the Supreme Court.

He said that India is a signatory to various international conventions and treaties, related to refugees and asylum seekers, largely within the framework of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) but not on the basis of Citizenship Act, 1955, which he said , can be regulated to protect their rights. Because protecting their rights merely on the basis of certain documents, depending on case to case basis, may lead to ambiguities in the uniform interpretation thereof compounding their problems in getting even basic necessities in different parts of the country in the absence of a national law.

Justice Kumar said that legislature needs to be impressed upon for enacting a national law on refugees and asylum seekers to overcome adhocism and confusion as these may lead to subjectivity and unnecessary litigation.

Mr Bimbadhar Pradhan, Secretary General, NHRC, triggering the discussion, said that while there are various internationally acclaimed measures India has been using to deal with the refugees and asylum seekers, but these are  largely with the intent that normalcy can be restored only by sending them back to their respective countries on voluntary repatriation.

Ms Kavita Belani, Dy Chief Mission, UNHCR said that refugees by definition are victims of human rights violations. She lauded India’ s support to refugees and displaced people with its home grown solutions in line with the global commitments. She described these as very inclusive and forward looking. However, she said that these needed to be put in a structured policy on predictable lines for a national response to make it easy for all the refugees and asylum seekers get access to their rights.

Besides the inaugural session, the open forum was divided into two thematic sessions focusing on Policy framework & legal safeguards for refugees and asylum seekers and Issues & challenges in protection of right to life & dignity and access to other socio- economic, educational & cultural rights.

Concluding the discussion, Justice Kumar said that all the suggestions will be further deliberated in the Commission before sending to the government as recommendations for implementation.

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