Monday, May 30, 2011

Sahana Basavapatna
[Lawyer, New Delhi]

The question of a legal framework for refugee care in South Asia has long occupied academics, activists and lawyers in the South Asian sub-continent. While the discussion and debates in the highest circles have lead to very little in terms of a tangible legal framework, a number of developments, within the South Asian sub-continent have equally lead to or is very likely to lead to far reaching changes in the way refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons and “illegal” immigrants are viewed, cared for and managed. Some of these include the UNHCR’s Urban Refugee Policy of 2009 that will have far reaching implications in the possibilities it offers and the limitations in its application in countries in South Asia, the Unique Identity Project, now renamed as “Aadhar” in India, and some other lesser known executive orders that impact refugees on a daily basis.

Yet, the combination of the absence of refugee law, ad-hoc administrative policies and diversity among refugees provides a veritable landscape to understand why such a law is yet to be passed by Parliaments in South Asia, what dictates such an ad-hoc policy, the space available for refugee groups protect themselves by remaining “illegal” and yet deal on a constant basis with the inadequacies in the law.

Towards this end, this edition of Refugee Watch Online brings together diverse contributions, significant news articles and legal developments which reflect the complexities of forced migration in South Asia.

While 2011 was marked by commemorating the 60th anniversary of the UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (July 28) and the 50th anniversary of the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness (August 30), as the contributions in the May edition of Refugee Watch Online show, there was not much by the way to celebrate for refugees. While one appreciates that the international refugee protection regime has withstood the test of time, politics and contexts, for a large number of people on the run, these instruments of protection have not alleviated their situation.

The first contribution in the May edition is a short note written by Somali refugees protesting before UNHCR in Delhi in the second week of May 2011, reiterating their concerns that for a large number of Somalis in India, much has remained the same, in terms of protection. Pertinent to mention in this context, is that the demands of the Somalis is unfortunately not new. The Somali refugees in Delhi continue to face insecurity and lack of protection, despite some of them living in India for over a decade. This protest is yet another reminder that Somalis, like the African refugee community, remains a forgotten people, in India.

The second contribution is an article titled “Untangling Nepal-China ties: The politics of Tibetan refugees in Nepal” written by Boris Markhampa and Susan Appleyard and is an analysis of the treatment of Tibetan nationals seeking asylum in Nepal in the context of Nepal – China relationship. It seeks to show how the Tibetan community in exile in Nepal has been used as a bargaining chip in Nepal’s relations with China and what the ramification of this unstated policy for Tibetan nationals have been.

The third article is a contribution by Prof. Tricia Redeker Hepner, Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Tennesee that focuses on how migration from Eritrea in contemporary times needs to be understood in the context of the existing regime of refugee protection. In making clear links between the political situation in Eritria and the exodus of a large number of people who see migration to the “West” as the only way to find a way out of the political turmoil, Prof. Redeker Hepner calls into question the effectiveness of the refugee protection mechanism. RWO has taken permission to re-publish this article, which was initially published in Counter Punch on April 22, 2011. This seemed to us to be an apt article for this edition, given that it makes very pertinent observations about the forced migration policy and its inability to deal with questions relating to protection of refugees. Prof. Redeker Hepner notes in conclusion that through the Eritrean example, she seeks to “illustrate the complexity and global scope of human rights dilemmas that structure refugees’ lives, and the failures of institutions, policies and laws designed to manage them as technical problems rather than protect them as human beings”. It cannot be gainsaid that South Asia offers adequate examples of this complexity and therefore the uniqueness of forced migration in the sub-continent needs to be studied for the answers it may provide for better understanding of the phenomenon.

Followers of developments in forced migration in South Asia would be aware of around 64 Pakistani citizens who protested in Jantar Mantar, in New Delhi in 2008 by burning their passports and claimed refugee status in India for fear of persecution on religious grounds. The Pakistani nationals belong to the Mehdi Foundation International, the followers of which have reportedly been persecuted for their religious beliefs. The Pakistani nationals approached the judicial system in India and filed a Writ Petition seeking directions from the Delhi High Court that their application for asylum be taken up by the Government of India. In November 2009/January 2010, the Government of India rejected their application for refugee status and by an order dated December 2010, the Division Bench of the Delhi High Court, headed by the Hon’ble Chief Justice Deepak Mishra directed that UNHCR process the applications and until the UNHCR decides the applications, none of the asylum seekers be deported. The Order of the Delhi High Court dated December 2, 2010 is reproduced in this edition and a few remarks may be made in giving a context to this case. The December 2010 order is illustrative of the number of aspects of refugee protection and processes that is significant to India. This case follows many others decisions where the Judiciary has shown consideration to refugees arriving in India, in the absence of which, refugees normally find themselves confronting the government which oftentimes makes arbitrary and ad-hoc decisions. Having been rejected refugee status by the Government of India in November 2009, the Pakistani Nationals sought directions that they be allowed to apply to UNHCR for refugee status. The Court observed that this should be allowed, given that the Government of India rejected refugee status by a non-speaking and general order “passed in violation of principles of natural justice”. Applications were subsequently made to UNHCR, who has granted them refugee status. However, the 64 Pakistani nationals will be resettled in the next three months as they do not have the right to live in India as refugees. While the settlement to a third country is processed, RWO is informed that any assistance for the 19 women, 11 children and the elderly among the 64 individuals would be appreciated.

In the section on News, two news articles are reproduced in keeping with the theme of this edition. The first news clipping is about Assamese of Chinese origin, who face a unique situation in India. Chinese nationals who originally were brought to work in the tea plantations in Assam at the beginning of the 18th century eventually settled down in Assam and married local Assamese residents. The Sino-Indian war of 1962 lead to a large number of these people were arrested and sent off to a camp in Deoli, Rajasthan, from where they were eventually deported to China. One of the few people who has conducted extensive research on this issue is Dr. Rita Chowdhury, an Assamese author and the recipient of the Sahitya Academy Award. RWO intends to follow up on this issue in the forthcoming editions of RWO.

The second news article, in contrast to the first, information that is now too common in the mainstream media and yet, in the context of the law – or the lack of it and the historical connections of India with its neighbours, telling of how borders make people with an identity in law. This news article talks about Ramesh Gayen and many others like him, who “don’t have any sort of recognition even after living in a country for over 40 years are not “qualified enough” to discuss politics”. The context for this news article is the recently concluded Assembly elections in West Bengal. The article states that people like Gayen who migrated from Bangladesh in the 1970s are “yet to be recognized as refugees or granted citizenship”. That India’s obsession with the Bangladeshi immigration and “infiltration” is alive is reflected yet again in the experiences of people like Gayen who continue to be non-citizens in the nations imagination.

The section on Reports includes a summary report of a workshop and a conference held in March 2011.

A workshop on Borders and Forced Migration was jointly organized by the Centre for Refugee Studies, Department of International Relations, Jadavpur University and the Calcutta Research Group on March 29, 2011 and focused on statelessness, migration due to resource crisis and the ramifications of forced migration on women. A conference titled “Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons in India and her Neighbours” was organized by The Other Media in Delhi on March 30th and 31st 2011. It sought to examine the status of refugees in India in the context of the existing legal regime – both national and international. Both the forums, interestingly, focused, among other issues, on the question of statelessness and the risks, dangers and dilemmas that people face in falling under the category of “stateless” in India.

The May edition of RWO ends with an announcement of the Koshish contest, currently being organized by UNHCR in Delhi, under the “Do 1 thing for Refugees” as part of the commemoration of World Refugee Day, in June 2011.

We hope you enjoy reading this edition of RWO. Please feel free to send us comments, critiques or get in touch at

Somali Refugees Protest before UNHCR Delhi May 2011

[The following is a note sent by representatives of Somali refugee community in Delhi in the context of their protests before the UNHCR office in Delhi. The note is carried here with minimal grammatical and formatting editing; no changes have been made in the language of the text]

Somalia is a country located in east Africa. It is a country where there is no functioning government for the last two decades .There is 100 thousands of Somali refugees who flee to the neighboring countries like Kenya and Yemen, a fraction of those refugees came to India.

On the other hand Somali refugees living in New Delhi are the third largest community registered from the UNHCR after Afghani’s and Burmese.

Some of the Somali refugees who live here are staying 20 years while some stays 10 years, remaining arrives last five years.

The UNHCR provides for refugees three durable solutions which are as follows.
1.Local Integration
2.Voluntary repatriation
3.Resettlement in third country

The Somali Refugees don’t receive the above solutions.

1.The UNHCR officers told us integration is not possible for us that is why we can’t get resident permits and work permits .All of us are having UNHCR certificates and recognized as refugees but no rights and no benefits. The UNHCR used to give monthly payment to the neediest people of our community and recently they stop it. Those people were elders and widow women with children.

2.There is a lot of people who face difficult situation’s and request from the UNHCR voluntarily repatriation to go back to their country and face persecution there. The UNHCR reply was we didn’t bring you to India so we can’t return you back.

3.The third and the last option is resettlement in a third country. The UNHCR considers few cases of our community compared to the number of Somali refugees living in India. We know resettlement is limited but we were requesting from the UNHCR for the last years to have number of resettlement quota proportionally compared to the number of Somali refugees.

4.The Question we are asking the international community, India, donor countries and UNHCR office in Geneva is.

Since we are living in India for a long period without rights and assistance and now the senior officers of the UNHCR tell us to be prepared to stay here for the coming 15 years without rights and assistance. How it is possible for us to survive in such kind of situation.

Untangling Nepal-China Ties: The politics of Tibetan refugees in Nepal

Boris Markhampa and Susan Appleyard

The legitimacy of Nepal’s Peoples’ Movement stemmed from the Movement’s demand for the return of democratic rights which had been destroyed by the then-king of Nepal, Gyanendra. For more than one year human rights groups, political parties and a large portion of the general population took to the streets using human rights slogans to demand regime change in Nepal. Memories of their trampled banners reading “Restore Democracy” or “Return Freedom of Expression” left behind as they were brutally detained by the Nepal security forces are easily recalled. By the end of April 2006, their struggle had succeeded and many civil and political rights were soon restored in the country.

On March 10, 2011, Tibetans living in Nepal were once again beaten and arbitrarily detained when they attempted to peacefully gather to mark Uprising Day, the anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan rebellion against China’s rule in Tibet. Some Tibetans were arrested from protests, others from the streets near Boudha; more still were denied freedom of movement as they attempted to reach prayer meetings. Ten days later, the Tibetan community was denied the right to take part in the election of the new Kalon Tripa, Prime Minister of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile, with Nepal’s security forces seizing the ballot boxes just hours before the poll was due to close.

This begs the question – was the People’s Movement seeking to restore rights for all in Nepal? Since March 2008, at the behest of the Chinese Government, each of Nepal’s three major political parties, Nepali Congress, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) and the UML, have successively flouted the rights they struggled so hard for by repeatedly cracking down on Nepal’s Tibetan community. These political actors who struggled for a return of democracy and civil and political rights to Nepal during the People’s Movement should question if the Nepal they struggled for is a country that so easily gives up constitutionally protected rights at the request of a powerful neighbor.

The Chinese Government’s interference in Nepal’s treatment of Tibetan refugees can be demonstrated over decades of Nepal’s political history. The last decade has seen a steady escalation in the Chinese Government’s successful attempts to buy Nepal’s suppression of Tibetan’s rights. Since 2008, this has increased, as is demonstrated by the recent visit of China’s Army Chief, General Chen Bingde, to Nepal and the granting of military aid valued at 20 million dollars to the Nepal Army. The Chinese Government is investing heavily in numerous countries around the world, however, in Nepal this investment has unique impacts. The Nepali Government appears to feel obliged to repay the Chinese Government’s aid and investment with the suppression of Tibetans in Nepal and the effective denial of entry to Tibetans attempting to leave China. As the Chinese Government becomes increasingly fearful of even the slightest expression of dissent within Tibet, the Tibetans in Nepal will feel a corresponding squeeze on their rights and freedoms.

Intersections of Tibetan and Nepali History and Culture

As Tibet shares a vast border with Nepal along the greater Himalayan range to the immediate north, it is only natural that the two countries share many cultural practices and traditions. Almost all of Nepal’s ethnic communities along this border practice Tibetan Buddhism, wear traditional Tibetan costumes and speak languages that could be considered Tibetan dialects. Many of their forefathers are from Tibet; for example, the grandfather of one of the author’s relatives currently living in Nepal’s Namche Bazar, Solukhumbu District is from Tibet. Among Nepal’s many World Heritage sites are several holy Buddhist shrines including Boudhanath and Swayambunath Stupas. Kathmandu Valley has hundreds of Buddhist temples and Tibetans believe that great guru Padmasambhava meditated in Pharping, in western Kathmandu. Relations go as far back as the seventh century, when the Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo married Nepali princess Bhrikuti.

The Recent Arrival of Tibetans in Nepal

Due to the entrenched and extensive geographical and cultural ties, many Tibetans chose to travel to Nepal during the 1959 exodus from Tibet in the early years of the Chinese occupation. Many of the 100,000 Tibetans who fled the country, used Nepal as transit point and soon continued their journey on to India, to where His Holiness the Dalai Lama had fled, and where the Indian Government assisted them, granting them permission to stay and political space to establish the Tibetan government-in-exile. However, due to the cultural and historic ties between Nepal and Tibet many of those who fled Tibet decided to stay in Nepal, settling in various parts of the country including foreign assisted settlements such as in Jalsa, Kathmandu, and Pokhara. Donors supported the newly arrived Tibetan communities to establish Tibetan carpet factories in their settlements to sustain their livelihood. The carpet industry has had a significant impact on Nepal’s economy and in the following decades became a top industry.

In parallel to the Tibetan refugee community establishing themselves in Kathmandu and elsewhere, a Tibetan resistance movement comprising of voluntary members of the then Chushi Gangdruk resistance force and other young volunteers, with support from the CIA, established a resistance army force in Mustang District of Nepal and operated for almost 14 years. Around 1974, they were finally dissolved as a result of suppression by the Nepali Government under pressure from the Chinese Government and the sudden cutting of CIA support due to the formal establishment of US-China relations. While many of the resistance force were resettled in parts of Nepal, some refused to surrender to Nepali forces and were imprisoned; others committed suicide and some went to India. This history feeds a misguided fear that Tibetans may return to violent means of resistance against the Chinese Government.

Since the large influx of Tibetans in the 1960s, around 3,000 Tibetans per year seek security from Chinese-dominated Tibet by undertaking the dangerous and expensive journey over the mountains and into Nepal, from where most travel on to Dharamsala. For example, in October 2006, a group of 41 Tibetan refugees including two guides arrived safely at the Tibetan Refugee Transit Center in Kathmandu after escaping shootings by Chinese Border Security forces on the morning of 30th September 2006. According to an eye witness, Kelsang Namtso, a 17 year old nun from Driru County of Tibet was shot dead just before the Nangpa La Pass and Kunsang Namgyal, a 20 year old boy from Kandze was hit by bullets on his leg and he could not escape. He and 30 other Tibetans including 14 boys under the age of 18 were arrested by soldiers wearing camouflage uniforms. In addition to this case, there are hundreds of confirmed reports of arrests, looting, beating and deportation at the border as Tibetans trying to flee Tibet both by Chinese and Nepali Police.

Life for Tibetans in Nepal

The nearly 20,000 Tibetans living in Nepal have suffered decades of state imposed restrictions on some political, civil, economic, social and cultural rights including limits on state-provided education and health care and also employment restrictions. Their freedom of movement within the country is also restricted. Despite many of them being born in Nepal they are constitutionally not entitled to citizenship and cannot vote. They are one of Nepal’s many vulnerable minority communities. Within the 20,000 strong community, approximately 6,000 are not officially recognized and hold no legal papers. As a result their situation is even more precarious, as they are vulnerable to being viewed as illegal immigrants, potentially prosecuted as such and deported to China. This situation is a result of the Nepal Government’s decision in 1989 to stop issuing refugee identify cards to Tibetans, though allowing Tibetans to continue to enter the country and live in Nepal, effectively denying Tibetan asylum seekers a safe refuge. The fear of deportation is not without basis; in May 2003 Nepal deported 18 Tibetans to China without regard for due process on charges of travelling without valid documents.

Fear of confrontation with Nepali authorities and potential deportation is a constant source of trauma underlying the daily lives of Tibetans in Nepal. The Nepal authorities used this to their advantage during protests by Tibetans in March 2008, when they began to threaten even those holding refugee identity cards with deportation. For example, the Kathmandu Chief District Officer summoned and interrogated a Tibetan monk Tenzin Jamphel of Drubthok/Saraswati Monastery in Swayambhu, who was born in Nepal to Tibetan refugee parents and holds a Tibetan refugee identity card. He was forced to sign a paper and threatened that his Refugee Identity Card would be taken away and he would be returned to Tibet if he took part in any future demonstrations.

The Rights of Tibetans in Nepal

Tibetans, like everyone else have the fundamental right to seek asylum from persecution and the corresponding right, to not be returned to a country where they are likely to be persecuted. Furthermore, Tibetans living in Nepal, like all who reside inside Nepal, are guaranteed the rights of freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, among many other rights. Nepal’s own constitution guarantees freedom of expression and peaceful assembly to all persons and these rights are clearly spelled out in internationally agreed laws on civil and political rights and refugee rights and in customary law. Derogation of these rights can only take place under extreme circumstances and where an imminent, specific and serious threat can be linked to the speech that is being restricted. The Nepal Government has never demonstrated such a threat exists and the Supreme Court of Nepal has on more than one occasion found no grounds for restrictions on or arrests of Tibetans. By not guaranteeing safe sanctuary to Tibetans seeking asylum, Nepal is in violation of its own Constitution and its international legal obligations.

Given that the Government of Nepal is unwilling to grant Tibetans in Nepal the usual rights afforded to refugees, it could be viewed as surprising that the Government of Nepal has not allowed the Tibetan community to take advantage of the US Government offer made in September 2005 to resettle 5,000 Tibetan refugees. This denial of settlement in a third country, forces one to question what motivates the Nepal Government to essentially keep the Tibetan community prisoner within Nepal’s boarders?

Nepal-China Ties

Successive Governments of Nepal have always maintained a “pro-China” position, stating that “anti-China” activities would not be carried out on Nepali soil. This position deepened during the rule of former king Gyanendra. For example, immediately preceding king Gyanendra's assumption of direct control of Nepal in February 2005, the Office of the Representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama was closed by the Nepal Government. On the following day the Chinese Government welcomed the closure. When the king assumed directly control of the country, the Chinese Government stated that it was an internal matter for Nepal. The king was using Nepal’s Tibetan community as a bargaining chip in the hope that the Chinese Government would protect him from international condemnation. As his regime continued to falter and India’s support swung clearly in the direction of an alliance between Nepal’s political parties and the Community Party of Nepal (Maoist) (CPN-M), in October 2005 the king made a further gesture to China by halting the issuing of exit permits to Tibetan refugees, bring a complete halt to the “gentleman’s agreement” that had for decades allowed Tibetans to transit Nepal on their way to Dharamsala and third countries for permanent resettlement. This significant decision by the King of Nepal, immediately followed the United States offer to resettle 5,000 Tibetan refugees from Nepal.

The king’s hope that an alliance with the Chinese Government would help him to maintain a position of direct rule within Nepal was short lived. By May 2006, the Seven Party Alliance was leading an All Party Government, which was broadly accepted as democratic and by the end of the year, Nepal was a republic and the majority of civil and political rights denied under the king’s regime were reinstated. These same rights however, were not to be granted to Nepal’s Tibetan refugees. While the All Party Government did resume the issuing of exit permits, it did not allow the resettlement of the 5,000 refugees proposed by the US. The role of the Chinese Government in this is clear; in July 2006 during a visit of the Chinese Foreign Minister, he stated that some serious thinking needed to be undertaken by the Nepali authorities in regard to their decision to provide travel documents to the 5,000 Tibetan refugees at the same time and indicated that the Chinese Government would increase its aid to Nepal by 50 percent. Despite democratic elections in Nepal in 2008, the 5,000 refugees remain in Nepal, denied their basic rights in a country they are not allowed to leave.

In 2007, the All Party Government took the unprecedented step of deregistering the Bhota Welfare Office, a local organization assisting Tibetans living in Nepal. The organization challenged its deregistration in the Supreme Court of Nepal and during the final hearing on the case in February 2008, the government attorney handed a confidential file to the judge, to which the organization's lawyers were denied access. The Supreme Court then issued an oral judgment that the organization could not be re-registered.

Deepening China-Nepal Ties and Intensified Repression of Tibetan’s in Nepal

In March 2008 as the Olympic torch was greeted globally by protests as it made its way around the world to its final destination in Beijing, the repression of Tibetans in Nepal reach a climax. The dramatic civil unrest across the Tibetan plateau around the same time further inflamed Chinese Government fear and subsequently lead to increased repression of Tibetans in Nepal. Many eye witness accounts of the bloody crackdown that followed the protests in Tibet have been widely reported. It was considered one of the largest uprisings by Tibetans against Chinese occupation since 1959 when His Holiness the Dalai Lama fled Tibet.

In response to the protests in Tibet the Chinese Government has significantly increased its pressure on Nepal to suppress Tibetan dissent. This increase is evidenced by the increase in statements by the Chinese Ambassador to Nepal in 2008, documented evidence of direct behind the scenes pressure of Chinese diplomats for the detention of Tibetans in early 2008, the presence of Chinese security officials operating on along the Nepal side of the border and the restriction on access to areas around Mount Everest base camp prior to the assent of the Olympic torch. As a result the treatment of Tibetans by Nepali authorities has taken a more sinister turn toward what could be described as persecution of a minority. On 10 March 2008, Tibetans around the world exercised their right to freedom of assembly and expression by gathering to mark “Uprising Day”, the anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan rebellion against rule of the Chinese Government in Tibet. In most countries their rights were respected and their protests went off without a hitch. In Nepal over 150 arrests were made, many using unnecessary force, and around 15 Tibetans were beaten inside Boudha Police Station in Kathmandu.

What began as a normal celebration of Uprising Day in Nepal developed in the days that followed into regular mass protests by Tibetans who said they were compelled to continue to speak out for the protection of their brothers and sisters inside Tibet. It is very natural for a human to cry for help when a family member is in danger. Most of the Tibetans living in Nepal have relatives or a family member still inside Tibet, as such via direct links many were receiving firsthand information of the bloody suppression in Tibet. As the Nepal police failed to sufficiently suppress the protests, or perhaps because of their violent attempt to suppress, the protests appeared across the world’s media. The Chinese Government was embarrassed not only by the world attention but also by the protesters “knocking” on the door of the Chinese Embassy in Nepal every day over a month of continuous protests. Despite continuing suggestions by the Chinese Government and even by Tibet analysts, that these protests were part of an organized mass dissent, the authors who observed every protest over a six week period firmly believe they were witnessing an unorganized expression of grief and concern by the many Tibetans living in Nepal who had relatives in Tibet who saw no other way to protect their loved ones. Allegations that Tibetan leaders of the various organizations such as the Tibetan Youth Congress, also known as the Tibetan Youth Club, or the Tibetan Women’s Association were organizing and leading the protests have no basis, except in the case of the two or three specific protests that took place among the dozens of protests in early 2008.

Between 10 March and 18 July 2008 over 8,350 arbitrary arrests of Tibetans were made by the Nepal Police and the Armed Police Force. Many people were arrested on multiple occasions. Excessive and unnecessary use of force during arrest was extremely common. Accompanying these arrests was a pattern of injuries resulting from beatings during arrest by the Nepal Police and Armed Police Force combined with restrictions on medical treatment to detainees, sexual assault of Tibetan women during arrest, various forms of ill treatment in detention and the use of threats, intimidation and harassment to instill fear in the community. Restrictions on movement of Tibetans within Kathmandu were also imposed. The threat of deportation was so widespread during this period that it was difficult to not view it as a state sponsored method of creating fear within the Tibetan community.

Small groups of Tibetans also found themselves detained and facing charges under Nepal’s Public Security Act (PSA) – a law previously used by the former-king to detain many of the political leaders now in power in Nepal. The argument that Nepal’s “one China” policy could be used as grounds for detention has been rejected by the Supreme Court. Nepal’s Supreme Court has ruled that the detention of Tibetans under the PSA was illegal and ordered them released immediately. Thus the continued detention of Tibetan’s by Nepali authorities places the Government in clear breach of the orders of its own Supreme Court.

This pattern of restrictions, arrests and beatings has continued in Nepal since 2008 and has heightened at moments of cultural importance such as the Dalai Lama’s birthday and Tibetan National Uprising Day. For example, during celebrations of the Dalai Lama’s birthday in July 2010, over 250 Tibetans were arrested by the Nepali authorities. The continuing arrests and intimidation of Nepal’s Tibetan community are illegal actions by the Government of Nepal and are in breach of Nepal’s obligations under international law.

Life inside Tibet

Chinese Government suppression of any sort of Tibetan unrest in Tibet goes unabated; news of arrests, detention, torture and deaths of Tibetans appear regularly in media. This direct and aggressive suppression adds to the already complex and difficult situation in which Tibetans live their daily lives under Chinese Government rule. Tibetans reaching Nepal report restrictions on their freedom to practice their own culture, livelihood and religion and to use their own language; the continued destruction of Tibet’s natural environment to extract natural resources; discrimination in education, employment, and labour standards; and restrictions on reproductive rights and health care. As a direct result Tibetans continue to be forced to leave their home and seek a more secure life elsewhere.

The Chinese Government’s significant tightening of Tibet’s border with Nepal and pressure on the Nepali Government to do the same since 2008 has seriously impinged on Tibetans’ right to seek asylum. In March 2008, during a visit to the Zhangmu border one of the author’s directly witnessed several Chinese people in plain clothes on Nepali soil in the presence of uniformed Nepali security officials following their news crew. One of the Chinese people later stood in front of the camera lens when their photographer was trying to take video footage of the Friendship Bridge. A reliable local source from Zhangmu, Tibet has confirmed that the Chinese Government provides financial incentives to local Tibetans on the Tibet side of border for vigilant reporting of fleeing Tibetans and bounties for the capture of a Tibetan attempting to flee. The Chinese Government also reportedly provides bounties to Nepali policemen when they hand over a fleeing Tibetan to Chinese officials. Despite the risk involved in crossing the border, Tibetans continue to attempt to enter Nepal with 770 reaching the safety of the UN-run Tibetan Refugee Transit Center in Kathmandu in 2010.

Untangling China-Nepal Ties

Pressure from the Chinese Government on the Government of Nepal is very clear. In May 2008, amid the protests by Tibetans in Nepal the Chinese Ambassador to Nepal said: “We want the Nepali establishment to take severe penal actions against those involved in anti-China activities in Nepal”. If you consider the financial aid the Chinese Government provides to Nepal, it is difficult to imagine the Government of Nepal not following these clear instructions of their powerful neighbor.

One would be forgiven for thinking the Nepali Government is in a difficult position trying to manage a complex relationship with a hugely powerful neighboring country, this line of thinking may generate some tolerance for the Nepal Government’s suppression of Tibetan’s rights. However, when given the opportunity to begin to rid itself of this problematic refugee population via the US Government’s offer to take 5,000 of the refugees, the Nepal government denied them permission to leave the country. Why would the Nepal Government not take advantage of this offer?

The answer lies in the complex web of political and economic benefits Nepal stands to gain while it can leverage control of Tibetans in Nepal against economic and political support from the Chinese Government. As such, the Chinese Government appears to continue to buy the effective sealing of the Nepal-Tibet border, the effective imprisonment of Tibetans within their encampments on significant Tibetan holidays and the daily uncertainty of a secure life for Tibetans in Nepal. For the Nepal Government, it is profit for minimal investment. Suppression of the Tibetan community economically costs Nepal little. Politically there is also little cost to Nepal as there has been minimal significant protest by either Nepalis or the United Nations and rights respecting countries in regard to the treatment of Tibetans. Thus we are reminded of the old Nepali saying ‘punji nabahe ko bepar’, meaning “Business without investment”.

Moving Forward

In depth monitoring and reports like “Appeasing China: Restricting the rights of Tibetans in Nepal” published in July 2008 by New York based Human Rights Watch details the peaceful nature of all protests by Tibetans in early 2008 in Nepal, finding no evidence of violent activity by the Tibetan protesters. However, Peter Lee’s recent article in Asia Times, “China tests Nepal's loyalty over Tibet” demonstrates the Chinese Government’s fear of Nepal’s Tibetan population. This brings to mind a Tibetan saying, “Gya thogpe phung, bhod rewae phung” meaning “Chinese lose by suspicion and Tibetans lose by hope”. Misguided suspicion within the Chinese Government of a possible Tibetan rebellion, combined with fear of a weakened Beijing resulting from a possible future “Jasmine Revolution” may prove to be a blessing in disguise for Tibetans. If the legitimate leaders of Tibet, including His Holiness the Dalai Lama, play their cards right it may lead to a path of genuine negotiation between the Chinese Government and the de facto holder of the Tibetan snow lion stamp in Dharamsala. The impact of each and every decision made in Dharamsala has often shown that the decibels of the Dharamsala gongs are high enough to reach as far as Taktser in far eastern Tibet, the birthplace of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Many western voices, including some individuals within the United Nations, and some within the Tibetan community itself have suggested that Tibetans in Nepal should sacrifice some of their rights for the greater good of the Tibetan community. They alleged that peaceful protests, which are often no more than quiet cultural or religious gatherings within temple grounds, should be sacrificed to stop drawing the attention of the Chinese Government to Nepal’s policy in regard to Tibetan’s transiting through Nepal. Once we begin a negotiation of rights, such as whose rights and which rights are more important, we step onto a slippery slope of justifying abuses of human rights. As more world leaders bow down to the Chinese Government for economic and political reasons, sustaining the Tibetan way of life becomes increasingly precarious. The international community should instead actively defend the rights of all Tibetans regardless of where they live and pray. If the international community were to make Nepal’s suppression of Tibetans more costly politically, and even financially, there may be some shift in Nepal’s treatment of Tibetans.

Regardless of the financial and political incentives provided by either the Chinese Government or the international community, the political leaders of Nepal should think back to their own struggle for civil and political rights during the Peoples’ Movement and find within themselves a genuine commitment to democratic principles and values. It is on this basis, that these leaders should then decide if they will protect or persecute Tibetans who seek refuge in Nepal.

Refugees and the Failure of Forced Migration Policy: Human Tsunamis

Tricia Redeker Hepner
[Anthropology at the University of Tennessee]
(This article first appeared in Counter Punch on April 22, 2011)

The world's attention is understandably fixed on the post-tsunami nuclear disaster unfolding in Japan and the equally seismic political transformations shaking North Africa and the Middle East. Much speculation swirls around the impact of these events regionally and globally. Will fallout reach the shores of Europe and North America? Will more dictatorships be swept aside by swells of democratization? What role should the international community and the United Nations play?

In at least one country, the answer to the first question is clear, if not the second. And the third is another story altogether.

The Northeast African nation of Eritrea marks its 20th year of independence next month. But the festivities will be marred by mourning. President Isayas Afwerki remains firmly entrenched in the seat of power, claiming with alacrity to have foretold the groundswell overtaking his Arab neighbors while banning television coverage of the demonstrations and reorganizing the military to pre-empt a possible coup. Meanwhile, the ripples radiating from the epicenter of his brutal regime are unrelenting, and the fallout has a human face. Tens of thousands of men, women, and children have fled Eritrea in wave after wave of despair. While some of these refugees make it to the shores of Europe and North America, many more do not. Last week, two boats carrying 400 Eritreans and Ethiopians from Libya to Italy disappeared in the Mediterranean Sea. Fishermen and the Coast Guard are still recovering the bodies – evidence of what Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi calls "the human tsunami" battering the walls of Fortress Europe. In the Sinai desert, traffickers of multiple nationalities work in tandem with security forces of Egypt and Eritrea to extort, exploit, abuse, torture and execute refugees seeking to cross into Israel, where they are summarily labeled "infiltrators" in a euphemistic avoidance of international responsibilities to protect asylum seekers.

If refugee flows are a sign of political meltdown, then Eritrea is a level seven nuclear disaster. Figures from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees indicate that Eritrea, with a population of only about five million, has been among the top ten refugee producing countries in the world for the better part of the decade. In 2006, it ranked second in the world. In 2007 only Somalis and Iraqis lodged more asylum applications than Eritreans, and in 2008 the numbers of claims filed by Eritreans exceeded those of Iraqis.

The reason? Eritrea spends a whopping 20 percent of its national budget maintaining a military comprised of forced conscripts whose virtually unpaid labor is reinvested in further militarization of the society and economy. The Constitution has been on ice since 1997, the promise of multi-party elections remains unfulfilled and even North Korea boasts greater freedom of the press. Civil society institutions and competing political parties exist only in exile. The list of human rights abuses characterizing daily life in Eritrea is longer than the number of international conventions the government has signed. Torture, rape, and execution are commonplace for those who dare put up a fight. The result? Massive flight. "Is there a worse country in the world than this?" mused a Texas lawyer representing one of the hundreds of Eritrean asylum seekers in the U.S. as we reviewed his client's case.

As an anthropologist who has lived in Eritrea and worked with Eritrean communities in Europe, Africa, and the U.S. for years, I dearly want to defend this country. But the best I can do is to help defend its displaced, abused, and often forgotten citizens. Together with lawyers, Eritrean activists, human rights organizations, UNHCR staff, and colleagues like Magnus Treiber and Barbara Harrell-Bond, I struggle to place the people of this small African country on the global crisis radar. It's a tall order in these days of perpetual disasters and mind-numbing statistics.

And the statistics on refugees are indeed numbing. The number of people forcibly displaced by conflict and persecution worldwide stood at 42 million at the end of 2008. The total includes 16 million refugees and asylum seekers and 26 million internally displaced people uprooted within their own countries. These figures, of course, hide lots of things, such as the numbers of people removed by development projects like dam-building, by "natural" disasters, by the structural violence of poverty, environmental destruction, and by the alchemy of desperation and profits that forces people to migrate and often to sell their bodies and lives into servitude of one kind or another. These figures obviate human experience.

But human experience is what anthropologists are always after – how to put life and breath and flesh onto the cold bones of statistics; how to illustrate the concrete meanings of political violence and migration policies and practices as people live them. Among such human experiences are those of nineteen members of the elite Air Force of Eritrea who fled to Sudan a couple of years ago, risking the "shoot-to-kill" policy of the Eritrean government -- as hundreds of others do every month -- seeking to cross the nearest international border.

In Sudan, they registered with the UNHCR and began seeking both refugee protection and resettlement abroad. Their high-ranking and symbolically significant position as the pride of the Eritrean Defense Forces made them more vulnerable to persecution and punishment by the Eritrean government than many of the 100,000+ Eritrean refugees in Khartoum. However, some of these men used to be soldiers with the guerrilla movement that is now the Eritrean government. They have scant hope of ever being accepted by the U.S. or Canada – the two largest refugee receiving countries in the world – because under some very broad terms of the U.S. Patriot Act and a similar Canadian law, they are considered "terrorists." This is because they took up arms in an anticolonial liberation struggle against the Ethiopian government more than thirty years ago.

Others in the group are young men who were conscripted. Despite their elite positions, their fate was hardly better than most others in the military and their exit signaled refusal of the sort of complicity that makes life more bearable in such conditions. However, these men are also in for a long and treacherous series of legal obstacles due to international reluctance to recognize military deserters and a 2002 policy adopted by the UNHCR rendering ex-combatants ineligible for resettlement.

Similarly, clauses that exclude those who may have participated in human rights violations or persecution of others also present stumbling blocks when applied to real conditions. Virtually every soldier in the Eritrean military has been forced to guard, surveil, or repress another soldier or civilian at some point, and the majority of Eritrean refugees have been soldiers. The very structure and social organization of militarization and political repression in Eritrea blur the neat legal distinction between persecuted and persecutor so critical in refugee and asylum determination procedures. Even the U.S. Supreme Court got drawn in, when the asylum claim of a former conscript named Daniel Negusie was denied because his assignment as a prison guard – punishment for his own dissidence by the Eritrean government - suggested he was complicit in the harm of others.

In the meantime, the 19 men wait in Khartoum, where Eritrean security officials operate with impunity. On any given day, they may be attacked by an agent of their own government, kidnapped and taken back to Eritrea, or, at the very least shaken down and extorted by Sudanese police or soldiers, perhaps beaten and jailed for being unwanted migrants. Should the UNHCR take the situation seriously and realize these men need protection – an unlikely showing of concern for individuals by a bureaucracy whose esteemed reputation is outshined only by its impersonality, impenetrability, and unaccountability - they may be taken to a refugee camp, where they will still be subject to many of the same pressures, only in more concentrated form. This is glossed as "protection," even a "solution," though it is hardly that.

While camps in places like Sudan and Ethiopia may comply with UNHCR policy, they are administered by host country agencies and staff, some of whom inevitably participate in the abuse and misuse of refugees, often under the noses of international staff. A trip to the food distribution center may end in rape and a place in the resettlement queue can be bought (or lost) for a hundred thousand birr [Ethiopian currency]. In Shimelba Refugee Camp, in northern Ethiopia, the UNHCR compound is open only a few hours per week, as impervious to refugees' pleas for help as President Isayas Afwerki is to political transition.

If elite air force men cannot gain the attention of UNHCR, then the situation is far worse for the average person. Some refugees get sick of waiting – who wouldn't? - and take their chances. But the routes to escape are toxic. If they make it through the Libyan desert to reach the Mediterranean and finally to Malta or Lampedusa, which only a handful do, new problems arise at the gates of Fortress Europe. Are they really political refugees or just impoverished economic migrants? How will a country like Malta – swamped with tens of thousands of refugees – manage to decide their fate? If they move on to another European country, they face imprisonment and deportation under the Dublin II regulation. Consumer values may tout individual initiative and choice but do not extend to "asylum shopping," thank you very much.

Those who have the connections and money might hire a smuggler, usually for tens of thousands of dollars, who will take them on a risky and tortuous journey to Southern Africa, then Brazil, through Colombia or Venezuela, perhaps Cuba, then Nicaragua, Guatemala, and finally Mexico, where stuffed in the cargo bay of a bus, or in the custody of a coyote, they will cross the border of the US and ask for asylum. For their efforts at being "above board" – that is, presenting themselves to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) - they are welcomed to freedom in America through its prison system. While this may stimulate the privatized prison-industrial economy, it is first and foremost an extension of human rights abuses shouldered by refugees. In detention, they discover legal-dilemma redux: many of the same problems that stalled the refugee process in Sudan follow them to the United States. They are possibly terrorists, or implicated in persecution and human rights abuses; they are cowardly deserters of a sovereign state's military; and of course, they are always criminals for having the audacity to migrate illegally. But had the legal refugee process been responsive to actual human circumstances, such illegality would be far less likely.

I am compelled to shed light on stories such as these not only to highlight the victimization, suffering, and exploitation that runs through them in every direction like capillary veins, that multiply with each person involved, with each new step through "the system" in which legal and illegal intersect all the time; where the life-force that drives people to make such choices in the name of survival and hope can be snuffed out in an instant for profit, power, or sheer indifference. Nor is my primary intention to malign institutions like the UNHCR, or the asylum system in the US and Europe, which are as full of dedicated and committed advocates for refugees' rights as they are of infuriating inefficiency, corruption, and bureaucratic senselessness.

My goal is to illustrate the complexity and global scope of human rights dilemmas that structure refugees' lives, and the failures of institutions, policies and laws designed to manage them as technical problems rather than protect them as human beings. It is not enough to simply address the human rights violations that lead people to become refugees at the source, crucial as that may be. All along the way, refugees face multiple and nested issues that are sometimes endemic and even actively produced or aggravated by the very systems designed to protect them.

While earthquakes, tsunamis, nuclear accidents, and revolutions may be dramatic and momentous events, it is worth remembering that their wrenching daily equivalency plays out in political and humanitarian disasters like that of Eritrea's refugees, more invisible than the radiation seeping into the Pacific but no less poisonous for those affected. As Eritreans mark the 20th anniversary of their revolution, any thoughts of Egypt or Libya will focus on the lives of loved ones lost in the Sinai or Sahara, or those whose fates are yet unknown. Their suffering, and the ripples of despair that radiate throughout the lives of their families and compatriots, is fallout from Isayas Afwerki's dictatorial rule. But it is also fallout from the international community's failed, inadequate, and draconian migration policies and laws. The fallout has not only reached our shores – it also originates there. What comes around goes around. Human lives are the currency we use to pay for the failures of modernity.

W.P.(CRL) 1470/2008

SAIFULLAH BAJWA and ANR. ..... Petitioners
Through: Ms. Meenakshi Arora, Advocate with
Ms. Poli Kataki, Mr. Rahul Narayan,
Mr. Mohit Ram and Ms. Sakshi Chopra,


UOI and ORS .....
Through: Mr. A.S. Chandhiok, ASG with
Mr. Neeraj Choudhari and Mr. Khalid
Arshad, Advocates for UOI.
Ms. Meera Bhatia, Advocate with
Mr. Roshan kumar, Advocate for State.
Mr. B.K. Upadhyay, Advocate for Mr. V.
K. Tandon, Advocate for Central Jail Tihar.



Invoking the jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution of India, the petitioners have prayed for following reliefs:-

A. Issue a writ of mandamus or in the nature thereof or any other writ, order or directions quashing the order dated 28.01.2010 whereby the representation for grant of Asylum of the 65 detainees of Pakistani origin listed in Annexure A-1 has been rejected by the Respondents by a non-speaking, general order passed in violation of the principles of natural justice without giving any hearing to the Pakistani Nationals.

B. Issue a writ of Certiorari or in the nature thereof or any other writ, order or directions directing the Respondents to reconsider the application for Asylum of the 65 detainees of Pakistani origin listed in Annexure A-1 after granting them an opportunity of personal hearing and pass a reasoned and speaking order after such hearing in order to enable the said persons to submit an appropriate representation against the said order passed therein, if so required; or in the alternative;

Issue a writ of Mandamus or in the nature thereof or any other appropriate writ,
order or direction, directing the Respondent No.1 to refer the applications for
asylum of the 65 persons of Pakistani origin presently lodged in Tihar Jail, to
UNHCR with a request to enable the said persons to obtain naturalization in any
willing third country.

C. issue a writ of mandamus or in the nature thereof or any other writ, order or directions restraining the Respondents from deporting the persons listed in Annexure-P1 and five children born in custody while detained by the respondent.

D. Issue a writ of Certiorari or in the nature thereof or any other writ, order or directions directing the Respondents to release the 65 detainees of Pakistani origin listed in Annexure A-1 from detention at Tihar Jail and instead of deporting them to Pakistan, direct the Respondents to hand them over to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees known as UNHCR on the basis of principle of ?non-refoulement.

E. Pass such other and further orders as may be deemed fit and proper in the facts and circumstances of the present case.

Be it noted, on 17th December, 2008 while dealing with CM No.14764/2008,
the following order came to be passed:-

The applicant has prayed in this application to implead United Nations High
Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) as party respondent to the writ petition. The
case of the applicant is that certain letters have been forwarded by the UNHCR
wherein the issue of the petitioner has been taken up with the Central Government. Secondly, according to the petitioners in case the Indian Government is not inclined to grant asylum to them, the UNHCR can be approached for the purpose of naturalization in any other country, which is prepared to grant them refugees status.

Notice be issued to the Union of India, returnable for 11th February, 2009.
Prior to that an interim protection was granted.

When the matter was taken up today, Ms. Meenakshi Arora, learned counsel for the petitioner submitted that United Nations High Commission for Refugees (in short ? UNHCR?), has communicated to the petitioner vide E-mail dated 12th May, 2009 which we think it apt to reproduce as under:-

65 Pakistani members in Tihar Jail
Tuesday, May 12, 2009 4:10 AM

New Delhi India View Contact details


Dear Ms. Parbhoo,

We would like to acknowledge receipt of letter and email dated 11 May, 2009 concerning the 65 MFI followers in Tihar Jail in New Delhi. Based on our discussion with you in the past and our advice to the MFI, please note that we continue to appreciate the timely information that your foundation has been sending UNHCR regarding the development in this case. As we have informed your foundation previously, while we will not be present at the hearing on 13 May 2009, please be assured that UNHCR continues to closely monitor these developments. As stated in our earlier communications and over the telephone, given the complex legal and diplomatic environment in which UN agencies operate in India. UNHCR will await the court?s judgment on this issue.

As always, we assure you that UNHCR remains committed to its mandate. We will continue working with relevant government institutions to ensure respect for the principle of non-re-foulement and the right to seek asylum.

Thank you,

(UNHCR New Delhi)

Ms. Meenakshi Arora, learned counsel for the petitioner has also invited our attention to the order passed in the High Court of Judicature at Bombay in Criminal Writ Petition No.2033 of 2005 wherein a letter was issued by the UNHCR and taking the same into account the Division Bench passed the following order:-

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is directed to hear and
dispose of appeal filed by the petitioner, which is pending before it, dated 20/2/2005 within a period of one month from the date of receipt of this order by
it. For the said period of one month and two weeks thereafter, the residents shall not deport the petitioner. This order is passed without going into the merits of the petition.

In view of the aforesaid, we only request the United Nations High Commission for Refugees to take a decision within six weeks with regard to a representation to be submitted by the petitioners within a period of one week from today.

The protection order passed by this Court shall remain in force for a period of ten weeks. In the meantime, the petitioners shall not be deported to the country of their origin. Needless to say, we have not addressed to any other issue which has been urged by the learned counsel for the parties.

The writ petition is accordingly disposed of without any order as to costs. Order dasti under signatures of Court Master.



DECEMBER 02, 2010


Assamese of Chinese Origin can Visit State: Gogoi

[Sushanta Talukdar, November 8, 2010]

Sahitya Akademi Award winning Assamese novelist Rita Chowdhury has urged Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi to allow the “Assamese people of Chinese origin,” who were “deported” to China after the 1962 India-China war, to visit their relatives and friends at Makum, a small town in upper Assam's Tinsukia district.

“The Chief Minister has allowed me to share with the media that he would formally welcome Assamese people of Chinese origin who were deported from India, if they desire to visit their places in Assam. He also told me that he was aware of the facts and could understand their pain,” she told journalists here on Sunday. The novelist called on Mr. Gogoi Friday to discuss the matter.

Dr. Chowdhury's Assamese novel Makam (meaning Golden Horse in Chinese), published in April, deals with the plight of 1,500 “Assamese people of Chinese origin” who were rounded up on November 19, 1962 at Chinapatti in Makum, on the eve of the signing of the India-China treaty, and taken to the Deoli internment camp in Rajasthan on a horrendous seven-day train journey.

These people of Chinese origin were forced migrants, brought by the British to work on tea plantations at the beginning of the 18{+t}{+h} century. Subsequently, they married local Assamese women and assimilated with Assamese society. They never imagined that the war would bring such untold miseries. Before their arrest, they were segregated as Chinese and non-Chinese. This resulted in dislocation of the families and separation of husbands from wives and children from parents. Their property was confiscated.

At the end of the war, when the Chinese army left after declaring a unilateral ceasefire, most of the Deoli camp internees were deported to China, and most of them had to leave their relatives in India. Many Indian women also moved to India with their husbands and children. The families were dislocated once again. Other inmates of the Deoli camp were released after three years. Even as they were trying to overcome the trauma of separation, back home they found that their confiscated property had already been sold as “enemy property.”

Dr. Chowdhury, who teaches political science at Cotton College here, traced some of these displaced “Assamese people of Chinese origin” in Hong Kong.

“Some of them still speak and write Assamese; some speak a mixture of Hindi and Assamese. They do not want to return. But they want to visit Assam to meet their friends and relatives. “We were not Chinese spies. Why were we deported,' they ask. They still remember India as their ‘Janam Jaga (motherland)'.”

On May 23, 2010, the Indian Overseas Chinese Organisation of Hong Kong felicitated Dr. Chowdhury for highlighting their plight through her novel.

Dr. Chowdhury also presented a video documentation of her interaction with them in Hong Kong. There were nine families of “Assamese people of Chinese origin” who still lived in fear and isolation in Makum and did not want to speak anything about their ordeal for fear of being subjected to another bout of suffering, she said.

“We cannot undo the harm that has been done to them. But we can at least express solidarity with them for their 48-year-long ordeal. It is time the government of India formally expressed its solidarity with them,” she said.

She also welcomed the government move to amend the Enemy Property Act.

Still without an Identity

[Raktima Bose,Kolkata, April 5, 2011]

Shashadhar Hazra still has his certificate from Mana camp in Chhattisgarh as proof of identity. Photo: Arunangsu Roy Chowdhury

Try bringing up the topic of the Assembly election with 80-year-old Ramesh Gayen, and he retorts angrily that people like him who don't have any sort of recognition even after living in a country for over 40 years are not “qualified enough” to discuss politics.

Mr. Gayen's anger is echoed by Sashadhar Hazra, Kalyani Biswas, Ujjwal Biswas and other residents of Chikunpara village who were forced to cross over from Bangladesh since the 1970s. They are yet to be identified as refugees or granted Indian citizenship.

Chikunpara, which mostly comprises refugees from the erstwhile East Pakistan, falls under the Gaighata (SC) Assembly segment in the Bongaon sub-division of North 24 Parganas district.

Despite being counted during census operations and issued ration cards, a large section of the displaced people in this region are yet to receive Indian citizenship and elector's photo identity cards. They also continue to be branded as “Bangladeshi infiltrators.”

Showing a certificate issued by authorities at a refugee camp in Mana in present-day Chhattisgarh — after he arrived in India in 1975 — Mr. Hazra asks: “This is all I have to prove my claim, but the officials said it is not enough. Tell me what else they ask of people who were forced to leave their home and hearth so many years ago?”
While several parties have claimed that they will push for the scrapping of the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunals) Act if voted to power, immigrants feel that the absence of a prospective vote bank makes the parties disinterested in aggressively pursuing the issue.

Pointing out that no amount of promises and assurances could improve the condition of immigrants over the years, Ujjwal Biswas, in his mid-30s, says: “If we could vote, our sole demand would have been that of citizenship rights. But we cannot even afford to talk about politics or take sides as it will only ruffle feathers in the rival camp.”

Although they are followers of the influential Matua Mahasangh, the fact that Manjulkrishna Thakur — son of the sect's godmother Boroma — is contesting on a Trinamool Congress ticket from Gaighata (SC) appears to be a non-factor to the immigrants.

Mr. Gayen's youngest son Palash, who was born in India, received his photo identity card a few days ago.

“The sect leaders are more concerned about financially well-off followers than poor immigrants like us, but I will still cast my vote hoping for a better tomorrow for my family.”

Palash has returned from his workplace in Mumbai just to cast his vote.
Admitting that there are thousands of immigrants living without citizenship rights in districts that share a border with Bangladesh, Bongaon sub-divisional officer Sanjay Mukhopadhyay says that photo identity cards cannot be issued to them because of unavailability of valid documents.

Mr. Biswas' optimism shines through the uncertainty that clouds the future of these immigrants. “I may never get a chance to vote or even get deported, but my wife and daughter can look forward to a promising future as citizens of the country.”

The Students’ Workshop on Borders and Forced Migration

The Calcutta Research Group (CRG) organized a day-long student workshop at Jadavpur University in collaboration with the Centre for Refugee Studies, Department of International Relations, Jadavpur University on March 29, 2011. Issues related to forced migration, refugees and statelessness in South Asia (with special reference to India) were discussed in the sessions of the workshop. A special session was devoted to deal with the International legal regimes related to refugees, Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and Statelessness.

The inaugural session started with the welcome address delivered by Anindya Jyoti Majumdar, Head, Department of International Relations, Jadavpur University. As the Chief Guest of the workshop Nilanjana Gupta, Dean, Faculty of Arts delivered the inaugural address. The session ended with a short introduction of CRG by Samir Kumar Das.

The first session started with a special lecture on Colonialism, Resource crisis and Migration by Subhas Ranjan Chakraborty. Chakraborty described how people were forced to migrate due to various reasons like resource crisis, natural disasters and governmental policies. In this context, he spoke about the impact of colonialism on the Indian sub-continent during late 18th - mid 20th century. With the expansion of colonial administration a large part of the population was forced to migrate involuntarily. According to him, the British colonial power became de jure after 1757. Mughal Empire granted diwani of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa to the East India Company. The company had invested in these three provinces and wanted to maximize the revenues. They started a unit of exchange – sikka and Rupee. Nayeb Razim Reza Khan was appointed to collect revenues. The Company rule was a new kind of despotism, having power without responsibility- looking for absolute profit unencumbered by any welfare or moral obligation towards the ‘native’ subjects. This caused a great famine in Bengal in 1770 known as the ‘Bengal Famine’. This famine compelled the rural population in Bengal to migrate to Calcutta. Chakraborty quoted Hunter, who on the analysis of data said that Calcutta was emerging as a city of palaces. There was a marginal crisis of labour. Thus, there was an inducement to migrate and work in the city. Chakraborty explained that commercialization of agriculture, rural indebtedness, and rayatwari-mahalwari settlements etc. caused depeasantization. According to Chakraborty migration of people from rural to urban places was sometimes controlled by the state.

There was a panel discussion on Migration, Borders and Women in the second session comprising Paula Banerjee and Anasua Basu Ray Chaudhury. At the very outset of her presentation on Women and Circles of Insecurity: Borders in East and North East India Banerjee said South Asia is a region of unique borders. Borders symbolize the national security of a state. On the one hand, the borders in this region are sites of hatred, disunity and informal connections while on the other borders signify cooperation. Threats of human trafficking, drug peddling and arms smuggling are the few problems that infest these borders constituting a part of non-traditional security discourse. Banerjee mentioned in her presentation that women and children are the most vulnerable group as they are often trafficked through these borders. In this context she narrated a story of a refugee woman who was caught and raped by the Border Security Force (BSF) personnel while illegally crossing the Indo-Bangladesh border. She was later rescued by the villagers. While narrating the story Banerjee opined that the main reasons behind forced migration are endemic poverty and lawlessness. She said that sometimes women have to take care of her families in absence of men, whom they have lost in the course of migration and these women often are trapped by traffickers when they ventured out of their homes to earn livelihood. They usually have nothing to barter except their body. Banerjee mentioned trafficking of women as one of the major causes of HIV/AIDs in this region of South Asia.

Anasua Basu Ray Chaudhury in her deliberation on Stateless women in India started with the legal definitions of Statelessness stated in the international legal regimes like 1954 and 1961 conventions. While conceptualizing de jure and de facto statelessness she said that the citizenship is the legal bond between a state and an individual. To give example of de jure statelessness she elaborated the case of Chakmas and Hajongs in Arunachal Pradesh. During her presentation she shared the experiences of her fieldwork in Arunachal Pradesh. She concluded by discussing the risks that stateless people have to bear and the condition of stateless women. As an illustration, she narrated the story of Kamala Devi from Dumpani village in Changlang district of Arunachal Pradesh. The panel discussion ended with interaction between the panelists and the participants.

In the last session on Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) with special reference to Conventions and Protocols, Sabyasachi Basu Ray Chaudhury defined ‘refugees’ according to the 1951 convention of refugees, Oriental African United (OAU) convention of 1969, Cartagena convention of 1984 and the protocol of 1967. He described the methods in which the UNHCR deals with the refugee problems in South Asia. He also described the evolution of the concept of refugee from 1951 to 1984. While Samir Kumar Das made a distinction between the refugees and the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). He said the conditions of refugees and IDPs were the same. He defined IDPs according to the international refugee law and highlighted many important points on the definition which are usually ignored by students. In order to explain IDPs Das talked about the causes of displacement like natural or man-made disasters, development programmes and resource crisis among others. In his deliberation he mentioned that United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) remains silent when displacement happens due to development programmes. While explaining the classifications of the IDPs Samir Das gave an example of the situation triggered by river bed erosion of Ganges-Padma in Malda district of West Bengal. The workshop ended with the distribution of certificates among participants.

Workshop on ‘Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons in India and her Neighbours’

Priyanca Mathur Velath
[CSLG/J.N.U, New Delhi]

A two-day workshop was organised by The Other Media in Delhi on March 30 – 31, 2011 titled ‘Protection of Refugees and Stateless persons in India and her Neighbours’. Ravi Hemadri (TOM) began by remembering how this workshop emerged out of an idea that had come up during an earlier workshop organised by TOM, SAFHR and CRG. The idea was to take up a study on the status of all refugee and stateless communities in India in light of the absence of refugee law.

The objective of the workshop was to bring together representatives of refugee communities, organizations, NGOs, scholars, researchers, other concerned institutions and individuals committed to refugee protection in India, as well as in South Asia, towards examining the current status of the state of refugees and the protection of their rights. The two-day conference focussed on specific issues concerning the Refugee Convention, 1951, Convention Relating to the status of Stateless Persons, 1954, and the 1961 Convention for Reducing Statelessness.

The workshop was a great opportunity of building networks, for refugee communities, both amongst themselves and also between them and the NGO and academic community; at the national and South Asian level and to promote collective action and involvement in removing impediments in protecting the rights of stateless persons and refugees. Since refugees and stateless persons are essentially a regional phenomenon, it was urged that the national governments work out a Regional Framework for solving the problem. However, a proactive role is expected from the Indian state in coming out with a domestic law or the protection of refugees and resolving the outstanding issue of stateless persons.

On the first day the inaugural lecture was delivered by Prof. Partha Ghosh of SIS, J.N.U. titled “Thinking Beyond Security – Migrants and Stateless in South Asia” where he identified various causal categories behind migratory flows. The Chief of Mission, UNHCR, New Delhi Office, Montserrat Fixes Vihe, while chairing the first session appreciated that it was not often that she had the opportunity to be amongst so many people working with refugees and committed towards their cause. It was acknowledged that this workshop would bring together people from diverse backgrounds and different perspectives that can really contribute to enriching our thoughts.

The second session chaired by E. Deenadayalan (TOM), comprised of voices from the refugee community where representatives from the Chin Refugee Committee, Chin Human Rights Organisation (CHRO), Kachin Refugee Committee, Arakan Students Youth Congress, Zomi Refugee Group, Afghani Refugee community, Seemant Lok Sangathan (Pakistan Visthapit Sangha), Somali refugees, Sri Lankan refugees (Jesuit Refugee Service, Chennai) and the Iranian Refugees expressed their concerns regarding their present protection status and living conditions in India. More than ten representatives of refugee/stateless communities expressed their concerns regarding the issues of legal protection and survival, lack of right to work, adequate housing, health care and education, particularly in the urban context. Refugees from Pakistan living in the western state of Rajasthan lamented the climate of suspicion existing in the process of their recognition. Activists working with Sri Lankan Tamil refugees in Tamil Nadu expressed the need to end the climate of heightened securitization that prevailed during the months of war. Urban refugee communities living in Delhi like those from Myanmar, Afghanistan and Somalia worry about the threats to their lives and safety from violent attacks and deplored the inability of the local police to provide them adequate protection.

Attempts to ‘Overcome the limitations of conventions and protocols and protecting refugee rights way beyond the absence of law or way beyond law’ were sought to be addressed in the next session. Dr. Sudeep Basu (GDIR, Ahmedabad) pointed out that finding a way beyond the absence of law was quite a difficult task as in India while one hand law has always been absent, on the other at best one can say that refugee policy has been present. One needs to thus enquire within this framework how refugees have been able to deal with their existence and lives in the absence of the law. He brought into the discussion some of the work he had done with Tibetan refugees. post 9/11, particularly with the SAARC Convention, there has emerged a notion that there should be a refugee policy for us. There has arisen the need also to have a citizenship law that caters to the needs of Indian state along with the need to ‘securitise’ our borders. This increases the danger of clubbing together migrants of all categories. One thus has to understand and revisit the durable solutions and our intuitive self confidence of thinking that we can do with local integration. It must be realised that for years now India has been host to so many communities, her borders have been very fluid and so local integration as a viable solution is not a easy task. Mr. Ravi Nair (SAHRDC, New Delhi) reiterated that it was clearly evident that the Government of India especially the security establishment, which principally has the last word on migration policy, could do much more then what we give them credit for. They look only at it through the security prism rather than the humanitarian prism and there was little awareness in both government and civil society about the need for a broader policy framework.

Then while discussing ‘Population Movements To and Fro India and Her Neighbours’ it was asked if a ‘South Asian Regional Framework the Answer?’. In this session, the chair, Prof. V.G. Hegde (J.N.U.) spoke of how within this move from specific national legal issues to a more broader South Asian legal framework, if India is located in this context, it must be seen through the lens of the Indian nationality laws, especially in view of the kinds of amendments that have come through. The same have in fact all generally reflected on the cross border population movements because India has borders with all the major south Asian countries. So in that context the nationality laws of other south Asian countries also will have equal impact. There are serious implications resulting in creation of persons of statelessness. Dr Gopal Sivakoti (INHURED, Nepal) humbly stated that being a person from the neighbouring country of Nepal he had a lot to learn from the Indian experience. It’s important to see and assess how the Indian Government has functioned in the field of human rights democracy, in dealing with migration, refugees, and IDPs. He said that as a source country of migration Nepal has learned a lot from India and that it needed to be deliberated if a regional framework could frame a base mark to protect displaced persons in this region.

Next, Hindu Singh Soda (Seemant Lok Sangathan/Pakistan Visthapit Sangha) highlighted the plight of the group of refugees that he worked with i.e., those coming from Pakistan. He explained how the different dimensions of the policies of the Indian government in treating refugee groups can be better understood through the conditions of this group. Anasua Basu Roychowdhury (Mahanirban Calcutta Research Group, Kolkata) elaborated on the possibility of formation of regional framework through the lens of Statelessness, it’s meaning and it’s difference from refugee according to international law, illustrating it through her field experience in Arunachal Pradesh.

The participants, that included Dr. Achan Mungleng, highlighted that the plight of refugees in the North East India deserve more attention than they usually get and that the lack of political will of the Indian state must not be forgotten. Participants expressed concern that in such a scenario what would be the role of UNHCR, of refugee committees and of refugee right activities. Unfortunately, not much co ordination is seen when refugees urgently need legal or medical help. Activists usually get so lost that there is no coordination between different NGOs and refugee organizations and no desire to come together and share. Different refugee communities also do not know what is happening with each other. Here the participants expressed their concern at the increasing problems of refugees and stateless persons in the South Asian region and the lack of a legal mechanism for their protection. The participants discussed policy responses to population movements, current position of the refugees and stateless persons and the legal hurdles in the way of their recognition. They resolved to organise themselves into a ‘Refugee & Stateless Persons Rights Network of India’ for better sharing of experiences and to campaign jointly for a better deal.

What has emerged from this workshop is that there are larger issues of state responsibility in ensuring democracy, rule of law, minority protection – both at the national and regional level. Noting that many of the refugee situations are human rights crisis situations, the participants have implored that measures should be taken where all the states ensure better protection of human rights standards and human rights defenders.

The Koshish Contest by UNHCR Delhi, India

Under the 'Do 1 Thing for Refugees' initiative UNHCR Delhi has announced the Koshish contest as part of the World Refugee Day commemorations on June 20, 2011. As part of the contest, UNHCR invites designs for ladies' kurtas made by refugee women under the KOSHISH label. The winning designs will find a place in KOSHISH's summer line to be launched on World Refugee Day.

KOSHISH is a small initiative supported by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) India which provides livelihood opportunities to more than 100 refugee women and provides skills training to more than 300 asylum seekers living in New Delhi . KOSHISH products include kurtas, kurtis, tops and artificial jewellery for women, kurtas and shirts for men, bedcovers, cushion covers, mobile phone pouches etc.

As some of you might be aware, refugees do not have the right to work in India although many of them do find work in the informal labour market often working in exploitative conditions. KOSHISH provides a safe working environment for refugees, particularly women, from diverse nationalities such as Myanmar, Afghanistan, Somalia, Iran, Iraq etc with heavy family responsibilities and faced with serious employment related protection risks.

Entries may be sent to latest by 10 June 2011.