Wednesday 22 July 2015

Refugee Issue

Why in news?

  • News all around about people fleeing their countries and seeking refuge elsewhere.
  • Rohingya Issue
    • Rohingyas, an ethnic Muslim minority indigenous to the Myanmarese state of Rakhine, fled Myanmar to escape widespread murder, rape, torture and forced labour at the hands of the junta. 
    • Rohingya migration -->  regional crisis, when boatloads of migrants were abandoned at sea, off the coast of Thailand and Malaysia, with no country willing to take them in --> temporary relief -->  sustained international pressure and a multinational conference, when the migrants were granted temporary refuge in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.
  • Uigurs Issue
    • In July 2015 Last week, amid widespread criticism, Thailand forcibly deported over a hundred ethnic Uighurs, a Muslim minority indigenous to China’s far-western Xinjiang region, back to China. 
    • Over the years, the Uighurs have become the primary targets in China’s crackdown (“strike hard” campaign) on domestic separatist movements, leading to wanton persecution of this community, as China tries to assimilate the Uighurs into the broader Han Chinese identity. While the Thai government spokesperson maintained that the government had received assurances from Chinese authorities on the safety of the deported Uighurs, the Chinese sang a different tune.
Importance of the matter

  • Events such as these have underscored the importance of international law and its ability to deal with the refugee crises. 
  • Traditionally, under international law, states were recognised as having a sovereign right over their territory, including the unqualified right to decide whether to admit or expel aliens. This sweeping power was often exercised by the states in a rather indiscriminate manner, which resulted in several innocent deaths, particularly during the World War II. The atrocities brought home to the international community the need for international rules for restricting the deportation of aliens who faced the possibility of post-deportation mistreatment, a rule now embodied in the principle of non-refoulement articulated in a number of international law instruments, most famously Article 33 (1) of the Refugee Convention, 1950. Under the principle, states are prohibited from expelling or returning refugees who have a well-founded fear of persecution to a country where their life or freedom would be under threat.
  • However, this prohibition is not absolute. At the insistence of the British and French delegates, a national security exception was carved out, allowing states to expel refugees whose presence was regarded as a security threat.
  • However, states have, both then and now, fiercely resisted adopting any absolute duty to grant a safe haven to threatened aliens.
  • Accordingly, the Refugee Convention and other subsequent international law instruments fall short of recognising a specific right to asylum from persecution. The treaty framework does not even explicitly recognise the right for persecuted persons to be admitted within the states’ territory — a right critical for the majority of today’s refugees — a harsh truth that rang true in the case of the stranded Rohingyas.
It it all that bad? 
  • This is not to say that there has been no progress in the international law framework to deal with refugees. The principle of non-refoulement has increasingly come to be recognised as a pre-emptory norm of customary international law.
  • Perhaps of greater significance to the majority of today’s refugees is the emerging customary norm of temporary refuge, which prohibits a state from expelling foreign nationals who have fled armed conflict and civil strife. Such persons are not the targets of persecution but are innocent civilians whose own government cannot guarantee their safety. The situation in Syria perhaps represents the need for such a norm.
 India, with its long history of providing shelter to the persecuted, from the Zoroastrians to, more recently, the Tibetans, is perhaps uniquely positioned, particularly in the Asian subcontinent, to take the lead in any international consensus building on the subject.


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