Refugees – treaties and India’s obligations – Why India hasn’t signed the refugee convention?

Refugees are people who have been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster, and seek refuge in another country. The Principle of Non-refoulement is a fundamental principle of international law, which states that refugees or asylum seekers shall not be forced to return to a country where they are liable to be persecuted.

Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees

Also known as the 1951 Refugee Convention, the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees is a United Nations multilateral treaty that defines who is a refugee, and also sets out their rights, and the responsibilities of nations towards them, such as fair treatment, free access to courts, public relief, freedom of religion, visa-free travel, non-refoulement, etc.

The original 1951 convention had some limitations: it recognised only those refugees whose circumstances have been caused by an event occuring before 1951, and allowed parties to the convention to interpret this as “events occuring in Europe” or “events occurring in Europe or elsewhere”. The 1967 Protocol to the convention removed both these temporal and geographic restrictions.

Refugee Convention members. wikipedia.

Why India hasn’t signed the Refugee Convention?

India has signed neither the 1951 Refugee Convention nor the 1967 Protocol to it, yet India already hosts diverse groups of refugees and in general they are treated kindly. There is no regional refugee framework in South Asia. Borders in South Asia are very porous, and any regional conflict can unleash mass movement of people and fuel discontent over demographic change, especially so in the Northeastern states.

Even though India has not signed the refugee convention, India has certain obligations towards refugees. India is a signatory to another international agreement – the United Nations Convention Against Torture (UNCAT), which states that a person under threat of torture shall not be extradited. Moreover, the principle of non-refoulement is fundamental to international law, which means that India cannot evict refugees, for instance the Rohingyas back to Myanmar unless the situation become peaceful and welcoming for them there.

More related information:

UNHCR – United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

Headquarters: Geneva, Switzerland.

The UNHCR, also called the UN Refugee Agency, is a UN programme with the mandate to provide, on a non-political and humanitarian basis, international protection to refugees, and to seek permanent solutions for them.

UNRWA – United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East

  • Separate from UNHCR, UNRWA is the only agency dedicated to helping refugees from a specific region of conflict.
  • It is voluntarily funded, and is not a UN programme.

New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants 2016 is a resolution of the United Nations General Assembly. It establishes a Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework, and reaffirms nations’ commitments towards refugees.

1 thought on “Refugees – treaties and India’s obligations – Why India hasn’t signed the refugee convention?

  1. Pingback: UN Convention Against Torture – non-ratification by India hurdles criminal extradition from other countries to India | broadgk

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