Thursday, November 08, 2007

CRG’ s Initiatives to Engage NHRC in the Series of Workshops on Displacement in India

Ishita Dey

Thousands of dalits from across the country reportedly reached Delhi on foot after walking for 26 days. As I pen down my reflections on the recently concluded workshops organized by CRG, one is left to ponder why so many people had to come down on the streets claiming right to land after 60 years of independence. The right to food, water, land and employment continues to haunt the dispossessed and displaced till date. Despite the policy exercises by the National and state governments and the institutionalization of the quasi-autonomous institutions like NHRC and State Human Rights Commissions it is time we reflect about the people’s movements and responsibility to protect – the onus and its dynamics?
In the recently concluded CRG workshop, we pondered on these issues with a range of civil society organizations, independent social activists, academics and lawyers. While all of us agreed on the systematic pattern of displacement and the way it has been naturalized through a rebuilding of populist consensus under the garb of the policy exercise; we tried to engage with NHRC and State Human Rights representative in the course of the three workshops. In the first workshop we had the pleasure to interact with the three NHRC representatives who were involved in various rescue operations against trafficking of women and children. There was a concern among the participants that the issues affecting the grassroots are often subtle and fails to grab attention. Dr. K. M. Parivelan from UNDP pointed out that the Chennai airport expansion will displace thousands and one of the questions raised was whether or NHRC could intervene in such cases. Even Dr. Ranabir Samaddar, Director,CRG felt that the catastrophic things grab more attention than the endemic things. He cited that humanitarian agencies in the recent past have conducted public hearings, which have been instrumental in mobilizing people and meeting the requirements of the people. He felt that NHRC should conduct public hearings and that could be an effective way to address people’s issues rather than wait for redressal of complaints. One of the main concerns raised by the activists, media persons and academics was the process of addressing the problems. Most of the people felt that mere redressal of complaints cannot be an effective way of addressing the concerns. Participants were also critical of NHRC’s role in the framing of the NRP 2006. The interaction and dialogue with NHRC participants was only restricted to the Bangalore workshop. Unfortunately the participants in the Bhubaneshwar and Kolkata dialogue could not interact with the NHRC personnel. Thorough this forum we want to draw attention to some of the problems raised in the Kolkata Workshop.
1.One of the main concerns of the Kolkata workshop was to understand the policy exercise. CRG had organized a one-day deliberation in Delhi to develop a critique of the R&R policy. The meeting was attended by a select group of academicians, lawyers and activists. In this meeting, we came to a consensus that NRP2006 should be read with the communal violence bill to understand one concern whether or not the proliferation of policy exercise actually reflects the state responsibility to protect or is it a way of copying with developmental strategies. The details of the proceedings are available in our publication. (For details of the report contact us at
2.Another concern voiced by participants from Ganga Bhangan Pratirodh Action Nagorik Committee, Panchanandapur, Bangitola, Malda was the enormous displacement caused by the construction of Farakka Barrage. Prior to the construction of the Farakka Barrage the river erosion was restricted to a limited area in Malda District. Since the construction of the Barrage, the erosion has been on the eastern bank and resulted in displacing thousand of people living on the east bank in the district of Malda. Currently the residents of the Malda town, NH43 and the railway tracks will be affected due to the massive erosion. The details are available in a book written by Dr. Kalyan Rudra , Ganga Bhangan Katha.
Gangetic erosion has displaced 5 lakh people. 14 high schools and Madrasas as well as more than a hundred primary schools along with many private educational institutes and I.C.D.S. centers have been destroyed. The schools have been rebuilt at locations, which are not easily accessible to the children of the locality resulting in increase in dropout rates.
About 125 thousand people are forced to live on alluvial deposited land in the middle of the river (locally they are called “charvari”). They are not recognized as “inhabitants” of the Malda West Bengal Government.
The only ray of hope for the victims of erosion amidst all of these lay in Section II of W.B. L.R. Act which guaranteed that the land eroded by any river would belong to its previous owner if it submerged as alleviated land within 20 years from the year of its being eroded. The government of West Bengal through the amendment in 2000 abolished this section. This amendment has taken way their right to land eroded by the river. This amendment has been done without any prior notice and information or warding compensation as it reads, “ Any land gained by- gradual accession to a plot of land, within from the recess of a river or of the sea, shall vest in the state Government and the raiyat who owns the plot of land shall not be entitled to retain such land as an accretion there to”.

NGOs Public Statement on the Security Situation of Iraqi Refugees in Lebanon

We, the undersigned, note with growing concern the worsening security situation of Iraqi refugees in Lebanon.
Random and targeted arrests and detention of Iraqi refugees have increased recently solely on grounds of illegal entry and/or illegal stay.
According to reports, 432 Iraqis were in detention in July, of whom 150 were arrested in the first week of July only. The majority of them had been registered with UNHCR and hold Refugee Status Certificate. The refugee certificate issued by UNHCR is not being respected by the arresting authorities, nor by the judges, prosecutors, or the Lebanese General Security Office.
Many are kept in detention after the expiry of their sentences as a coercive measure to force them to agree to be sent back to Iraq. IOM is reportedly assisting for these “voluntary return” convoys. This is contrary to UNHCR advising against returns to Iraq. By acting contrary to UNHCR guidelines and without its prior consultation, IOM seriously undermined the protection role and responsibility of the UN Refugee Agency.
The arrest and detention and threat of “deportation” under the cover of “voluntary return” is a flagrant violation of the right to seek asylum enshrined in the Preamble of the Lebanese Constitution and the international customary principle of non-refoulement which is embodied in Art 3 of the Convention Against Torture ratified by Lebanon.
We call on the Lebanese authorities to:
- Acknowledge the UNHCR guidelines regarding the refugees from Iraq and to establish a mechanism to receive and protect refugees from Iraq fleeing the generalised violence in their country.
- Grant the refugees from Iraq temporary residencies on humanitarian grounds.
- Ensure that arrest of refugees from Iraq is limited to identification of identity and for security reasons or other criminal charges.
We call on IOM to:
- Halt assistance to convoys and adhere to UNHCR guidelines and advisory concerning the non-returnability of refugees from Iraq to Iraq.
Jordan held a Conference on July 26 to look at assistance to countries hosting refugees from Iraq in the region, we call all stakeholders to:
- Remind the Lebanese government of its oligation as a member of the international community to recognize and protect the basic and fundamental human rights of refugees from Iraq during their stay in the country.
- Assist the Lebanese government and national NGOs in order to grant the refugees from Iraq refugees access to basic services such as health and education, and allow self-reliance opportunities.


On 18 December 2006, UNHCR issued an advisory return for Iraqis1 in which it recommended that states and UNHCR should declare Iraqis as refugees on a prima facie basis except for those who were residing in Iraqi Kurdistan and those who fall under the exclusion clauses of the 1951 Convention. UNHCR Advisory was issued following the serious deterioration of the security situation in Iraq that was characterized by the generalized violence, massive targeted violations of human rights, and the lack of government protection. According to the advisory, “Iraqi” refers to both Iraqi nationals as well as former habitual residents of Iraq, in particular Palestinian refugees. The Advisory called the countries in the region hosting Iraqis and which do not have refugee legal framework to allow Iraqis from Southern and Central Iraq to enter and remain, “even if on a temporary basis.’


Lebanese NGOs
Frontiers Ruwad Association
Lebanese Center for Human Rights
Nahwa Al-Muwatiniyya
Arab NGO Network for Development
Union of Democratic Youth

Arab NGO
Comité pour le Respect des Libertés et des droits de l’Homme en Tunisie, Tunisia
Fédération des Tunisiens pour une Citoyennete des deux Rives, Tunisia
Association Tunisiennes des Femmes, Tunisia

International NGOs
Médecins du Monde–France (Lebanon)
International Coalition on the Detention of Refugees and Asylum-Seekers
Italian Council for Refugees
Refugees International
The U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Euromediterranean Human Rights New Work
Episcopal Migration Ministries
Chaldean Federation of America
American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee
1. UNHCR Return Advisory and Position on International Protection Needs of Iraqis Outside Iraq, UNHCR, 18 December.

Appeal Against the Imminent “ Voluntary Returns” of Iraqi Detainees to Iraq

We, the undersigned, are concerned about the “voluntary return” operations of Iraqi refugees in detention in Lebanon to Iraq. Such returns are contrary to the principle of non-refoulement and to the UN position on non-returnability to Iraq of the Iraqi refugees from Southern and Central Iraq.
The Iraqi Embassy in collaboration with the Internal Organization for Migration (IOM), and the Lebanese authorities are currently preparing the necessary arrangements for the upcoming “voluntary return” of approximately 250 Iraqis from Lebanese detention centers to Iraq.
Refugees and asylum seekers are arrested solely on grounds of illegal entry and/or illegal stay and kept in detention for long periods after the expiry of their judicial sentences. Most Iraqis, if not all, see their return to Iraq as the only way out of prison: faced with indefinite imprisonment with no or little hope to be released by the Lebanese General Security Office – despite of UNHCR’s intervention on behalf of detainees known to them. This explains why some Iraqi detainees sign on their return to Iraq with the hope to leave Iraq again.
It is our opinion that such “voluntary returns” are in fact refoulement of Iraqi refugees.
UNHCR defines “voluntary” as the absence of any physical, psychological, or material pressure and considers that choosing to return when the legal status and rights of refugees are not recognized in the country of asylum is not an act of free will.
As prolonged detention after the expiry of the sentence is considered a physical, psychological and material pressure against refugees and as most refugees lack legal status in Lebanon, the voluntariness to return to Iraq expressed by Iraqis in detention is seriously flawed.
IOM and UNHCR have repeatedly stated that today they do not promote “voluntary return” of Iraqis. Yet, IOM in collaboration with the Iraqi Embassy are organizing what they call “voluntary return” operations on an ad-hoc basis.
UNHCR’s role in these operations is limited to counselling the detainees prior to their return. Yet, it seems that in reality UNHCR is viewed as approving such returns. Upon receiving the list of Iraqi detainees from the Iraqi Embassy, UNHCR conducts a counselling session stressing that it does not support the return to Iraq, that as Iraqis, they are considered as refugee by UNHCR and that they have the right to seek international protection in Lebanon. In the course of counselling, refugees are asked whether or not they want to seek asylum or maintain their refugee status. In case of a refusal, UNHCR makes sure that the person does not wish to seek asylum and intends to return to Iraq. It is our opinion that by participating in the process of these operations, UNHCR is allowing other actors to undermine its protection role.
We are further concerned that IOM and, the Lebanese authorities are putting the lives of Iraqi refugees in danger by returning them to war-torn Iraq without providing any guarantees for their security, any assistance or rehabilitation and without monitoring the situation of returnees inside Iraq.
We call on UNHCR, IOM and the Lebanese authorities to:
- halt the up-coming and all future so called “voluntary return” of Iraqi detainees to Iraq in compliance with the UN Return Advisory on Iraq.
We call on the Lebanese authorities to:
- put an end to the practice of prolonged arbitrary detention of refugees and asylum-seekers
- respect the fundamental principle of non-refoulement of refugees and asylum-seekers
- acknowledge the serious deterioration of the security situation in Iraq and grant a temporary residency on humanitarian grounds for Iraqi refugees.

Legal Background

Lebanon is not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and does not have a national legislation to protect refugees. Also, Lebanese authorities do not recognize the refugee certificates issued by UNHCR. Therefore, the majority of refugees in Lebanon lack legal status and are treated as illegal immigrants.
In December 2006, UNHCR issued a Return Advisory on Iraqis in which it stated that “[n]o Iraqi from Southern or Central Iraq should be forcibly returned to Iraq until such time as there is substantial improvement in the security and human rights situation in the country”.
UNHCR Handbook on Voluntary Repatriation considers that “voluntary” refers to the “absence of any physical, psychological, or material pressure” and that [o]one of the most important elements in the verification of voluntariness is the legal status of the refugees in the country of asylum. If refugees are legally recognized as such, their rights are protected and if they are allowed to settle, their choice to repatriate is likely to be truly free and voluntary. If, however, their rights are not recognized, if they are subjected to pressures and restrictions and confined to closed camps, they may choose to return, but this is not an act of free will”.
Article 1(1)(d) of IOM Constitution also stresses on the requirement of voluntariness in order to provide its services for voluntary repatriation.


American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, Michigan
Association Justice Et Misericorde)
Dr. Barbara E. Harrell-Bond, OBE
Church World Service, Immigration and Refugee Program
Comite pour le Respect des Libertes et des Droits de l’Homme
Episcopal Migration Ministries
Ecuromediterranean Human Rights Network
Federation des Tunisiens pour une Citoyennete des deux Rives
Federation Internationale des ligues des Droits de l’Homme
French Human Rights League
Frontiers Ruwad Association
International Coalition on the Detention of Refugees, Asylum Seekers and Migrants
National Council for liberties in Tunisia
Medecins du Monde – France (Lebanon)