Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Forced Migration and Images of State Failure

Priyanca Mathur Velath and Aparajita Das

While the world is reeling under the increasing burden of the Syrian refugees, there is need to draw attention to the fact that regions outside Europe also continue to face uncertainty and the fear of displacement in a recurring manner, due to reasons like civil war, genocide, ethnic conflict, riots and forced eviction. In this issue of Refugee Watch Online, weattempt to highlight incidents of forced migration that trigger flows of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) in West Asia, South Asia, South East Asia and within India.

One cannot ignore Syria, which has exploded into the biggest humanitarian crisis in recent times. More than 2.2 million Syrians have fled their homeland and have taken refuge in five neighbouring countries viz., Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq and Jordan. So the first article by Aparajita Dastalks about the Syrian crisis which remains a continuing challenge for not just aid providers but also the international community on burden sharing.From Syria we move to Pakistan in South Asia, where Portia B. Conrad seeks to address the challenges of settlement and safety of thousands of people who have been displaced due to low intensity conflict caused by government crackdown on terror groups.Then, Ashwathy Vijayan, in her article on Sri Lankan Tamils revisits the myriad unresolved issues confronting those displaced in the civil war, which continues to attract sharply polarised reactions from across the globe.

Following this Kriti Chopra recounts the perilous journeys undertaken by the statelessRohingyasto resettle in countries such as Australia, and Thailand.Closer home in India in the state of Uttar Pradesh Umakantha V. draws attention to the incidents of communal riots in Muzzafarnagar which rendered the members of a minority community homeless and left them with an uncertain future without adequate state assistance in camps.Next Priyanca Mathur Velath deliberates on the outcomes of the sudden forced eviction in the Ejipura housing colony for the economically weaker sections of the society, in the IT hub of Bangalore.

We finally conclude with a note by Paula Banerjee on A Response from the Global South: On “Negotiations of Engaged Scholarship and Equity through a Global Network of Refugee Scholars”. We look forward to your valuable comments and feedback.

The Crisis in Regime and Refugee Exodus in Syria

Aparajita Das

The United States of America (USA) andEuropean Union (EU), among other countries, have agreed to grant asylum to a fixed number of Syrian refugees. (1) This is a commendable step towards burden sharing of refugees, by countries which do not share common boundaries with Syria. The flight of more than 2.2 million people from Syria is stands marked today as one of the worst humanitarian crisis. It is estimated that this count might touch 3 million by end of 2013. The Syrian refugees face an uncertain future and their consistent outflow is causing a severe strain on host countries. As the winter sets in, well-off countries should provide more material help and safe passage to their soils.

The Regime: The civil unrest began in March 2011 with hundreds of Syrians staging protests demanding the resignation of President Basher Al Assad. The street protests soon degenerated into an internecine armed conflict, with pro-Assad and anti-Assad activists using indiscriminate force, killing and committing other human rights violations, resulting in huge flow of refugees. More than 100, 000 Syrians have been killed so far. (2)

Syria, a Sunni majority nation, was ruled by Basher’s father Hafez al Assad, an Alawite (a Shia sect), since 1970. Basher came to occupy the office of the president following the death of Hafez in 2000. Initially, Basher, unlike his father, did introduce some political reforms but that did not last long. Political arrests resumed, social gathering, media and internet began to be monitored again. (3)

The Protests: Popular protests first began in Daraa and soon spread to other parts of the country. According to a UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) report, the strife degenerated into an “overtly sectarian” conflict, with Sunni rebel groups fighting against the Assad government. The report adds that while minorities such as Alawites, Christians, Armenians, Druze support the government, often the Sunni opposition groups have attacked these minorities. (4)

The 28 month old internal conflict got messier day by day with both government and rebels getting assistance and diplomatic support from other countries and non-state actors. Assad is using the Syrian army, Shahiba, an unofficial pro-government militia group to crush the movement. Lebanon-based Shia militant group Hezbollah is fighting for Assad. (5, 6) The main anti - Assad group is the National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces, a coalition of different opposition parties, including Muslim Brotherhood. (7) The al-Nusrah Front, an affiliate of al-Qaeda, is the main militant group against Assad. (8)

While Iran and Russia back Assad, the US, the EU and Arab League have been pressurising Assad to step down. (9) In August 2013 Assad had allegedly used chemical weapons against the opposition, killing more than 1000 people. There were similar allegations against the rebels. (10) The UN investigators, next month confirmed the use of Sarin gas against the rebels. Following which the UN Security Council passed a resolution asking the Syrian government to dismantle all chemical weapons and Assad agreed to abide by this resolution. (11) The government has used cluster bombs, scud missiles against opposition whereas rebels have staged suicide bombings against civilians and government officials.

The Refugees: Most refuges have taken shelter in neighbouring Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey. Majority of them are women and children. These refugees, until they return to Syria, would compete for every basic needs, like jobs, education with the host people. Lack of basic amenities might trigger riots, which has been reported from camps in Jordan. What is alarming is that since 2013, there has been a steep spike in refugee outflow. Majority of them depend on aid for their daily survival. The presence of such high number of displaced people is causing financial drain for host countries. People in crowded camps are also vulnerable to contagious diseases. Jordan’s Zaatari city has more than 100,000 Syrian refugees. Reports from these camps indicate incidents outbreak of polio and organised crime. (12)

Some of the refugee camps, according to Amnesty International, USA, are being used to recruit militants. Such a situation poses a risk to the host nation. Zaatari camps are being used by Nusrah Front to recruit soldiers. Even among refugees there is discrimination. For instance Jordan has refused the entry of the displaced Iraqi and Palestinian refugees, who were residing in Syria.Turkey, which is backing the rebels, is housing about 516, 383 refugees. But reports suggest that there are many unregistered refugees in Istanbul and other south-eastern cities. (13)

Recently some refugees from Turkey were caught while illegally attempting to cross over to Greece. They weredetained by security forces and deported back. Such forceful return is against international and EU laws. Since March 2011, more than 20,000 people have tried to enter Greece and about 8,000 were detained on their arrival. Uninhabitable conditions in camps are likely to encourage illegal migration to better-off countries like Greece, but they might not be welcome due to different factors such as economic slowdown as in case of Greece. (14)

While Egypt has opened its borders to Syrians, it has refused the entry of Syrian refugees of Palestinian origin to seek protection under the office of the UNHCR. There are about 300,000 Syrians in Egypt now. In the beginning no visa was required to enter Egypt but when President Mohammad Morsi was ousted, restrictions on entry was imposed. The Egyptian authorities were reacting to reports that refugees were participating in pro-Morsi rallies. There are also reports that the interim government had unlawfully detained and forcefully returning some refugees, which is again violation of principle of non-refoulement. (15, 16)

Lebanon is the smallest host country with about 800,000 registered and unregistered refugees. Hosting such large size of refugees is likely to cost Lebanon about $2.6 billion, according to a World Bank estimate. (17) Hosting such high number of refugees is unsustainable unless the international community provides financial aid and shares some burden. Iraq has witnessed consistent flow of refugees from northern Syria, where rebels are trying to establish their rule. There are about 202,040 Syrians in Iraq. (18)

IDPs: As the conflict enters its third year, there are about 6.5 million internally displaced people (IDP), waiting for safe homes and other humanitarian assistance. The UNHCR on August 2013 shipped relief material to camps in Damascus and Idlib. The UNHCR and other aid agencies might not be able to provide timely help due to security reasons, making the IDPs more vulnerable to disease and other security threats. (19)

Other than the UNHCR, WHO, Caritas Lebanon, People in Need, International Medical Corps, CARE Jordan, Arab Women Organization are some of the non-governmental organisations which have been providing aid to these refugees. Western countries and some of the well-off West Asian countries should step in to rescue of these helpless Syrians. Italy has already allowed more than 4,500 Syrians, Canada has agreed to take in 1,300 Syrians, and US 2,000. Germany and Sweden have offered similar help. (20)

The UN has appealed for US $2.9 billion for helping the refugees and another US$1.4 billion would be required for IDPs. In addition to this the Lebanese and Jordanian governments have appealed for US $ 449 million and US$ 380 million, respectively. (21)

Conclusion: The western, better-off West Asian countries should be more forthcoming in aiding refugees, and also grant them permanent residencies. At present the neighbouring countries are too strained or unstable to provide safety to these helpless Syrians.

The refugee crisis is unlikely to be resolved immediately as there are no signs of Assad stepping down. The opposition might require to fight for long and sustained campaign unless international community intervenes in a decisive way. Even opposition groups are faction ridden and do not have one voice. If Assad resigns, security situation is likely to remain fragile and might not be encouraging for refugees to return.


1.Nick Cumming-Bruce, “Countries Agree to Special Quotas for Syrian Refugees” The New York Times, 1 October 2013, URL: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/02/world/europe/special-quotas-for-syrian-refugees.html

2.UNHCR, “Discovering the Human Faces of a Tragedy” (accessed on 12 November 2013), URL: http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/syria.php

3.Syria’s Civil War: Key Facts, Important Players, CBC News, 31 October 2013, URL: http://www.cbc.ca/news2/interactives/syria-dashboard/

4.Joe Sterling, SaadAbedine and Salma Abdelaziz, “Syrian Fight Now ‘Overtly Sectarian’, UN Says” CNN, 20 December 2012, URL: http://edition.cnn.com/2012/12/20/world/meast/syria-civil-war/

5.Asher Berman, “Criminalization of the Syrian Conflict”, Institute of War, 16 May 2012,URL: http://www.understandingwar.org/article/criminalization-syrian-conflict

6.Hezbollah’s Elite Leading the Battle in Qusayr region of Syria, YaLiban, 22 April 2013,URL: http://www.yalibnan.com/2013/04/22/hezbollahs-elite-leading-the-battle-in-qusayr-region-of-syria/

7.Syrian Opposition Groups Reach Unity Deal, USA TODAY, 11 November 2012,URL: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2012/11/11/syrian-opposition-deal/1697693/

8.Bill Roggio, “Al Nusrah Front Claims 3 More in Suicide Attacks”, Long War Journal,27 November 2012,URL:http://www.longwarjournal.org/threat-matrix/archives/2012/11/al_nusrah_front_claims_3_more.php

9.Holly Yan, “Syria Allies: Why Russia, Iran and China are Standing by the Regime”, CNN, 30 August 2013,URL: http://edition.cnn.com/2013/08/29/world/meast/syria-iran-china-russia-supporters/

10.RajiniVaidyanathan, “Obama: US cannot Ignore Syria Chemical Weapons”, BBC News, 7 September 2013,URL: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-23999066

11.Syria Civil War Facts, CNN, 31 October 2013,URL: http://edition.cnn.com/2013/08/27/world/meast/syria-civil-war-fast-facts/

12.Ashish Kumar Sen, “Syrian War Refugees Find Crowds, Crime and Contagion at Camps”, The Washington Post, 5 November 2013,URL: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/nov/5/syrian-war-refugees-find-crowds-crime-contagion-at/?page=1

13.Stephen Sarr, “Greek Border Police Illegally Deporting Syrian Refugees”, The Irish Times, 12 November 2013, URL: http://www.irishtimes.com/news/world/europe/greek-border-police-illegally-deporting-syrian-refugees-1.1591361?page=2

14.BehzadYaghmaian, “Syrian Refugees: A Need for Global Burden Sharing”, The Globalist, 31 October 2013,URL: http://www.theglobalist.com/syrian-refugees-need-global-burden-sharing/

15.Mariam Rizk, “HRW report: Egypt detains Syrian refugees and coerces them out of the country”, Ahram Online, Monday 11 Nov 2013, URL: http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/1/64/86159/Egypt/Politics-/HRW-report-Egypt-detains-Syrian-refugees-and-coerc.aspx

16.1500 Syrian Refugees detained in Egypt, IOL News, 11 November 2013,URL: http://www.iol.co.za/news/africa/1-500-syrian-refugees-detained-in-egypt-1.1605477#.UoHESvlgdX8

17.Dominic Evans, “World Must Help Lebanon Handle Syrian Refugee Flood,” Reuters, 3 November 2013
URL: http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/11/03/us-syria-crisis-lebanon-idUSBRE9A205K20131103

18.UNHCR, “Discovering the Human Faces of a Tragedy” (accessed on 12 November 2013), URL: http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/syria.php

19.Peter Kessler, “UNHCR’s Largest Shipment of Supplies for Syrian IDPs Leaves from Dubai,” UNHCR News,15 August 2013,URL: http://www.unhcr.org/520ce47b9.html

20.Daniel Pipes, “Syria’s Refugee Problem and the West,” National Review Online, 25 September 2013,
URL: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/359411/syrias-refugee-problem-and-west-daniel-pipes

21.UNHCR, “Discovering the Human Faces of a Tragedy” (accessed on 12 November 2013),URL: http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/syria.php

Conflict and Internal Displacement: A Case Study of North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Balochistan in Pakistan

Portia B.Conrad

For Pakistan, the task of settling its internally displaced people (IDPs) has beyond doubt been a mammoth challenge. Since a majority of its population live below the poverty line, there has been a slow recovery. But militant activities have only worsened the situation. The unexpected terrorist attacks, shelling through tanks and aircraft bombings have destroyed the houses in the area leaving residents with no other choice than to migrate. (i)

On March 2013, ten civilians and one aid worker were killed and several others were injured when a bomb exploded at the Jalozai camp for IDPs, inNowsherae district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa(KP), formerly a portion of theNorth West Frontier Province (NWFP), in Pakistan. This attack highlights that IDPs were unsafe even in the temporary shelters provided for them. (ii)

Besides, significant militant activity in the southern districts of KP and coordinated assaults on the Political Agent office in Peshawar district indicated that the security situation had deteriorated in KP. In Tirah Valley of Khyber agency, clashes continued between two opposing militant groups throughout the first half of this year. The Balochistan province, at the same time, remained equally volatile with the violent sectarian attacks against minority Shia Hazara community. (iii)

Such incidents of terror have impacted the people living there. The latest wave of displacement has seen over 130,000 people leave their homes in Pakistan’s northwestern Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) since March because of fighting between government soldiers and militants allied to the Taliban in the Khyber and Kurram agencies.(iv) The terror incidents were more frequent in the NWFP which is geopolitically divided into KP and FATA for administrative reasons. Militant activities have been reported from the provinces of Punjab and Sindh as well, but there were no reports of such mass displacement of locals. They were safer with more facilities around them. Why does this happen? There can be a few answers -

•When Pakistan was born its national leadership had tried to create its national identity based on common religion and reinforced state authority with excessive centralization of powers. They were not sure about the unity of divided people in a newly emerging state. Pakistan was created in the name of Islam but the idea of separate Muslim nationality was not much popular in many areas and more over many of its prudent leaders did not belong to these areas which were parts of Pakistan. Therefore the communication gap between the leadership and masses was wide and still remains the same. It has extended if not reduced. In these situations, regional leaders created a sense of mistrust, disharmony and disunity and ethno nationalist leaders took the charge of movements which were started for democracy and secularization of polity. (v)

•After the US troops withdraws from Afghanistan, FATA could be more vulnerable as the Afghan militants have set up bases there. Supporters of the Afghan Taliban in the tribal areas transitioned into a mainstream Taliban force of their own as a reaction to the Pakistani army's incursion into the tribal areas. The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) not only has representation from all of FATA's seven agencies but also from several settled districts of the NWFP.Pakistan's security forces are struggling to confront these domestic militants.(vi) The perceived marginalization by these regions in comparison to the mainstream is an important cause that has led to such a situation.

Terrorism has also had an impact on the economy of the state that has deepened the instability. Terrorism disturbs the inhabitants, damages infrastructure, causes a decline in economic well-being, brings political instability and breaks the social fabric of the society.More than 3 million people were displaced which resulted in a budgetary outlay of US $ 600 million in the fiscal year 2009 alone for relief and rehabilitation process of the IDPs. (vii)

The huge numbers of IDPs has created a humanitarian crisis. Between 80 and 90 percent of the IDPs do not have safe shelter. If the international community responds to their needs, these IDPs could present a potentially powerful constituency of civil opposition to extremism.The humanitarian crisis in FATA has received significantly less attention than displacement from KP’s Malakand region. Many have been unable to register or receive assistance due to the military’s tight control over access to humanitarian agencies in KP’s IDP hosting areas and continued security threats. In parts of FATA, most notably Bajaur agency, families have been forced to flee repeatedly because of militant resurgence. (viii)They had been displaced as a consequence of the conflict between non-state armed groups and government security operations in March this year, when over 17,000 families were forced to flee.

Thus it is imperative to consider the implications of increasing displacement of people internally within Pakistan.Displacement caused by ethnic and sectarian violence, as part of terrorism, in central FATA indicates that forced family groups are to move within the region to areas controlled by their own tribe or religious denomination. Over a period of time, communal polarization has forced whole communities to move, creating (semi) permanent segregated communities. The displacement of Shia communities from Lower to Upper Kurram and Sunni communities from Upper to Lower Kurram is an example of this.

Pakistan has been swinging between military rule and democracy, where the latter is weaker. The IDPs demand basic amenities to survive. They should not be an add-on factor to the existing instability in the state. If military objectives dictate rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts, a population exhausted by conflict could become a soft target for militants, making stability in the northwest even more elusive.

It is crucial to particularly analyse how the state has responded to this development. The Pakistani government has no national policy on addressing conflict-induced displacement and there have been no reports of any systematic government assistance to these types of IDPs in the country, the majority of whom are displaced as a result of combat between the army and insurgent forces. Initiatives by provincial governments to aid the displaced have had varying degrees of success. In Islamabad, despite expressing keenness to reconcile with warring Baloch factions, the newly elected PML-N government has shown little interest in ensuring safe return of around 200,000 IDPs from DeraBugti to their respective areas. This led to almost a two-month long protest against the government. (ix)

Besides, in 2007-08, when militancy increased and terrorists started getting control of settled districts of Pakistan like Swat, the Pakistan army conducted successful military operations against the terrorists. For security and civil relief operations up to US $ 4 billion (2.4 percent of average GDP) additional expenditures were incurred on the annual budget. It is also interesting to note that in 2013,over 2,362 internally displaced families (8,826 individuals) from the BaghMaidan area of Tirah Valley, Khyber Agency in FATA have received assistance to return home, according to FATA Disaster Management Authorities. Since January, 14,620 families have returned to Bajaur, Khyber, Kurram, Mohmand and South Waziristan agencies; authorities wish to repatriate 97,600 families (585,600 individuals) before the end of the year.(x)

First, the Pakistan government should allocate more funds to help the IDPs.

Second, it could also devise a rehabilitation and reconstruction policy in FATA and KP based on broad consultation with representatives of conflict and disaster-affected communities, credible local NGOs and professional organisations, and the national and provincial parliaments.

Third, ensure that registration and assistance for FATA’s IDPs is civilian-led and based on vulnerability rather than location. All restrictions must be removed, including No Objection Certificates, for humanitarian agencies, as well as all requirements for such agencies to share confidential data on beneficiaries with the military.

Lastly, the state should incorporate FATA into the constitutional, political and legal mainstream.


i) Mohsin, ZakiaRubab, “The Crisis of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan and their Impact on Pashtun Women”
URL: http://frc.com.pk/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/6.pdf

ii) OHCHR, “UN expert calls for better protection for internally displaced people camps after brutal car bomb attack in Pakistan” (Online: Web) Accessed on: 29 October 2013

iii) NRC Fact Sheet, “NRC's Country Programme in Pakistan” Accessed on: 27 October 2013
URL: http://www.nrc.no/?did=9178477

iv) One World South Asia, “Pakistan's IDPs find it can get worse” (Online: Web) Accessed on: 21 November 2013
URL: http://southasia.oneworld.net/resources/pakistans-idps-find-it-can-get-worse#.Uo3QrNKnogF

v) Aziz, K. K. (2001), Pakistan’s Political Culture: Essays in Historical and Social Origins, Vanguard Books Pvt. Ltd.

vi) Bajoria, Jayshree and Masters, Jonathan, “Pakistan's New Generation of Terrorists”
URL: http://www.cfr.org/pakistan/pakistans-new-generation-terrorists/p15422

vii) TariqMehmood, “Economic effects of war on terror” The Frontier Post, FATA, 3 August 2013
URL: http://www.thefrontierpost.com/article/31286/

viii) Asia Briefing, “Pakistan: The Worsening IDP Crisis” (Online: Web) Accessed on: 28 October 2013
URL: http://www.crisisgroup.org/en/regions/asia/south-asia/pakistan/B111-pakistan-the-worsening-idp-crisis.aspx

ix) WaseemAbbasi, “200,000 Baloch people still displaced; little done so far” The News International, Islamabad, 28 June 2013
URL: http://www.thenews.com.pk/Todays-News-2-186516-200,000-Baloch-people-still-displaced;-little-done-so-far

x) Reliefweb, “Return of thousands of IDPs continues in Pakistan’s volatile north-west” (Online: Web) Accessed on: 29 October 2013
URL: http://reliefweb.int/report/pakistan/return-thousands-idps-continues-pakistan%E2%80%99s-volatile-north-west

Post-Conflict Plight of Displaced Sri Lankan Tamils

Ashwathy Vijayan

Ever since the armed conflict ended in 2009, the condition of Tamil minorities in Sri Lanka has changed dramatically. It has been a journey from worse to worst. The ‘victory’ claimed by the Sri Lankan government over Tamil Tigers has broadened the role of the Sri Lankan military. This has resulted in a major shift in the country’s governance, to a stance that ostensibly favors the military. The exact impact and aftermath of the war can be seen in the larger picture emerging that shows rising human rights abuses against the civilian population, extrajudicial killings, disappearances, rape, sexual harassment and many other violations. On top of all these stands the issue of displacement, predominantly of the Tamils.

Displacement and forced migration in Sri Lanka traces its association back to two decades of civil war and ethnic conflicts. The worsening relations between Sri Lanka's two main ethnic groups, the Sinhalese and Tamils, had led to some migration in the beginning of the1950s. Later, the onset of civil war in 1983 saw a massive increase in displacement, especially amongst Sri Lanka's Tamils. Since then, conflict-induced displacement has continuously displaced people internally within Sri Lanka, across borders to neighboring India, and further to other parts of the world. Since a large part of the conflict has taken place in the North-East regions of Sri Lanka, it is not surprising that almost all of those who have been displaced belong to this particular region.

According to a study on Sri Lanka by DhananjayanSriskandarajah,‘Though it is impossible to estimate the exact impact of the war,extensive fighting, including conventional combat involving large battalions and heavy munitions, has destroyed much of the North-East region's physical infrastructure.’He observes that the key economic infrastructure such as irrigation systems have also been destroyed or neglected, and critical markets for goods and services have been absent or severely disrupted. Low levels of investment both public and private, in war-affected areas, severe disruption to education, and considerable damage to ecosystems came as a result of this state. Thus the destruction caused by these conflicts also meant that those fleeing from war were often fleeing from severe disruption of their livelihoods.

As many fled their erstwhile homes, those who remained were left with reduced economic and social opportunities. Often there was not enough critical mass to keep local economies alive, forcing even more people to leave. Besides, the economic breakdown in the north-east left many with only two options i.e. either to fight or flight. There was also supporting evidence that suggested that those fleeing from shelling and search operations of the state armed forces were roughly equal to those fleeing shortage of food and other essential items. Thus the causes of displacement in Sri Lanka continue to be all encompassing and increasingly more challenging.Innocent victims of forced migration are finding it hard to meet the ends. For years many villages in the north eastern regions are seen largely empty. Some families who go back are welcomed by eviction notices on their doors.

Among those who try to return, there have been complications in recognising returnees’ land deeds. While some don’t have land deeds but have voter registrations, others have deeds but already someone else have occupied their lands.Another issue that has arisen is with regard to the military occupation of lands. This is despite the fact that recently a note was sent by military spokesperson to journalists stating that any land that is not required to safeguard national security interests will not be held by the military.Resettlement in that zone, by thosedisplaced during the armed conflict and throughGovernment-sponsored relocation of Sinhalese workersand households has raised tensions between various communities.

Tensions have also arisen as a result of disputes over land and resources and also due to differingsocial and cultural normsthat were ignored during resettlement. An increasing prevalence ofsexual exploitation and relationships coerced or otherwise,has put women on the frontline as victims of these conflicts.Observing the present situation it would not be wrong to say the state and military policies are actively contributing to insecurity and the marginalization of women particularly. The issue of resettlement is also bringing with it the concern of shortfall in resources. Today what we can hear are the whispers of the homeless not only for their home but also for truth, justice and accountability for themselves.

The recent debates on Sri Lankan asylum seekers in Australia has led to the questioning of why Sri Lankan refugees continue to make their dangerous journey to Australia when the conflict has at last come to an end.It is only ironical that even after the end of this twenty-six year old conflict that caused so many people to leave their homes, people are still leaving their homes. The answer to this can be found in the uncertainty on the peaceful coexistence of all parties which came along the promise of a new era with the end of violence. Families and communities were divided and there still remains this legacy of suspicion trauma and resentment. Though we can see impressive outcomes with respect to the economic growth, rebuilding of roads, houses and public buildings and standards of health and education when it comes to rebuilding the shattered infrastructure of north, the efforts have proven to be unsuccessful. The end of the historic civil war has left Sri Lankan government as winner perhaps on the battlefield, but one that was acquired at the cost of losing peace forever.


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The Helplessness of the Rohingyas – No Place to Call Home

Kriti Chopra

The word ‘Refugee’ itself creates a negative impact in our minds when we think of it. This is not because of the character or nature of the word, but because of the various negative connotations attached to this word. The word ‘Rohingya’ immediately denotes a group of people who have been at the receiving end of continuing human rights abuses for years.

The Rohingyas have been subject to all sorts of maltreatment, partly because it is assumed that no international law is breached if a criminal act is committed against a stateless person. The mistreatment, as confirmed in various United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reports as well as by the Rohingyas themselves, includes forced labour, restriction on freedom of movement, extortion, the absence of residence rights, inequitable marriage regulations, land confiscation and limited access to secondary and tertiary education and other public services. Rohingyas, in fact, have become one of the world’s most persecuted minorities.

The, origins of the Rohingyas, according to a 2011 UNHCR report, lie in people who have immigrated or passed through Myanmar (Burma) from the seventh century onwards, like the Arabs, Moors, Turks, Persians, Moguls, Pathans and the local Bengalis and Rakhine and this is a bone of contention constantly between both the Rohingyas’ advocates and political adversaries. The former group tends to assert the immemorial link that the Rohingyas have with Burma, while the latter dismisses any such claims and see them as Bengali Muslims from the Burmese British era. But the somewhat obscure arguments on the community’s origins does little to either shed little light on why it continues to remain stateless and without rights or ameliorate their condition.

Though the paths leading to statelessness are intricate, the ways out of it are clear from numerous human rights treaties and conventions. Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights gives everyone “the right to a nationality”, which is reiterated in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (India acceded to the Convention in 1979). Along the same lines, but more specifically, the issue of statelessness is addressed in the 1961 UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, according to which primarily state parties must take pre-emptive measures in situations in which persons may be rendered stateless, and those born on their territory should be given access to means of obtaining citizenship based on the jus soli principle.

Countries such as Canada, United States, and Sweden have resettled a large number of people from the Rohingya camps in Thailand and India. But a final solution to the problem cannot be found unless there is a coherent political settlement inside Myanmar, between the government and opposition, and the country’s many ethnic minorities. On the other hand, it is unrealistic to expect a solution to any of these problems within the foreseeable future. Myanmar’s refugee problem is here to stay and unfortunately its opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is not making any emphatic statements to address the problem.

Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist nation of 60 million, has been gripped by sectarian violence for the last 18 months, leaving more than 240 people dead and causing 250,000 to flee from their homes. Most of the victims have been Rohingya, a long persecuted Muslim minority in the country, who have had Buddhist mobs chasing them down with machetes, iron chains and bamboo clubs. The unfortunate incidents of the 2012 Rakhine riots portray the kind of discrimination which is faced by the Rohingyas refugees. The military and police have been accused of playing a leading role in targeting Rohingyas through mass arrests and arbitrary violence. While the government response was praised by the United States and European Union, Amnesty International and other human rights groups were critical, stating that the Rohingya were fleeing arbitrary arrests by the Myanmarese government, and that the Rohingyas had faced systemic discrimination by the government for decades.

Majority of Rohingya refugees have remained in Bangladesh, unable to return because of the hostility of the Myanmar military-backed government. However the Rohingyas continue to face problems in here as well as there as they neither receive much support nor protection from the government of thehost countries. Instead they lead a harsh life in refugee camps, suffering from malnourishment, isolation, illiteracy and neglect. There is just one registered camp situated meters away from the unregistered camp where 90,000 refugees live. There is also another camp 15 miles away in Leda Bazaar, where approximately 25,000 Rohingya live.

As a result, thousands of Rohingyas have been undertaking hazardous boat journeys to Southeast Asia and Australia. The exodus usually kicks off in November, when seas begin to calm following the annual monsoon. Very recently a boat carrying at least 70 Muslim Rohingya capsized and sank off on the western coast of Myanmar. In fact, in the last week of November, 2013, Suu Kyi, was in Australia to encourage global interest in furthering democratic reform in Myanmar. Innumerable Rohingyas have also fled to Thailand. There are roughly 111,000 refugees housed in nine camps along the Thai-Myanmar border. But they have an uncertain fate there too as there have been charges that groups of them have been shipped and towed out to open sea from Thailand, and left there.

It is becoming increasing imperative today to increase the resettlement quotas of Rohingya refugees in countries like the US, Canada, Ireland and New Zealand. This resettlement must also provide extra support to local villagers living in the area surrounding the camps so that refugees are not perceived as a ‘burden’ on the local economy and society. It would not be incorrect to say that the helpless state of the Rohingyas refugees leaves them with no other option but to wander about everywhere and try to create a new home for themselves. Refugees are humans too; they should be given an opportunity to live their lives the way they want to and with respect. It is Burma's duty to accept the Rohingya as citizens, embrace their history and ensure the safe repatriation of each and every single member of the community back into Arakan. Although safer than being persecuted and killed in Burma, the Rohingya community in Bangladesh are a stateless community who want to return to Arakan when it is safe to call it home.



Riots and Displacement: Voices from the Camps of the Muzzafarnagar

Umakantha V

Muzaffarnagar, in the state of Uttar Pradesh, also known as the sugar cane capital of India, comprising of 18.5 percent of Muslims and a sizeable Jat population, catapulted into a place of communal riots recently that left hundreds displaced from their homes. The tensions snowballed from an incident of eve teasing, led to clashes between the two communities that ended up killing around 50 people and leaving many injured. The most shocking outcome was that in no time 50,000 people, mostly from the Muslim community, were forced to flee their homes.

Continuous media coverage revealed displaced families seeking refuge in madrasas and relief camps just a few hundred kilometers away from the national capital city of Delhi. The living conditions in these places of refuge kept worsening due to the acute scarcity of basic requirements. Many of the madrasas were hit by infectious diseases which increased the susceptibility of the causalities. For e.g., the Zeenat-Ul Islamia Madrasa near Ghaziabad where around 6000 people had sought refuge had glaring absence of basic amenities for women and children. There were around 13 newborns reported, who were at the verge of catching these infectious diseases. There was no assurance of medical care by the authorities. Doctors were raising the alarm that if immediate remedial steps were not undertaken on a war footing by the concerned authorities and relief agencies the situation could become worse.

Most of these relief camps had very scant provisions for sanitation forcing those displaced to travel to neighboring villages just to bathe. With limited toilets in these camps many had to resort to open defecation. Only recently hand pumps were installed in these camps that provided those living there to get access to water as before this they mostly relied on water tankers. Besides, relief camps were also failing to get essential supplies as was particularly witnessed in the Malakapur relief camp set up in the Shamli district. The people living in these camps were worried and knew that their vulnerability would increase as winter approached.

Official governmental relief was reportedly inadequate. In places like Shahpur, even the tents were in shortage and were instead being provided by the Jamaat. Parents were unable to enroll their children into madarasas because documents required for regular schools had gotten lost. Security became another critical issue of concern, when a 19 year old staying in one of those relief camps was allegedly raped by two men. Thus the urgent need for the state government is to find durable solutions for people with no other choice but to be resettled at these camps.

Amidst all this the politics with numbers continues. While the district administration denied reports of any deaths in relief camps, the reports of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) led by Justice Cyriac Joseph stated they were seven deaths. Besides around eight babies had reportedly died in Malakapur camp and the NHRC blamed the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) for its “highly irresponsible behavior” who were initially denying any deaths. On another poignant note it may also be added, the organizers of Joula camp had said that, of the 30 deliveries in the camp, three babies had died. The NHRC team also submitted the report to state administration for the immediate up gradation of these medical camps, as the basic conditions of most these camps were appalling.

Within no span of time this issue has been made into a political one by political parties, each seeking to maximize its own political expediency. Rather than sorting the problem they have started riding on it; each blaming on other for allegedly fanning communal hatred and engineering riots. What is most unfortunate is that none of the leaders have stressed upon the need for communal harmony and peace. Nobody detailed the action that should be taken by the government to restore normalcy in this riot-hit district and to ensure the return of more than 50,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) languishing in relief camps.

Riot victims, who are demanding punishment for culprits, homeless, who are asking for commensurate compensation for the lands and the homes that they have lost, family members of the dead, who need jobs, are still awaiting assurance of adequate relief from the government. Unfortunately it appears as though the politics of Uttar Pradesh has become divisive and has wrecked the administration. The police and administration have also, allegedly, shown compliance with the rioters. This is evident also in the fact that the police have repeatedly failed to either make any major arrest on riots or to do much to stop what happened. People who were forced to abandon their villagers are in the mode of denial that they ever want to return in spite government promising safety as well as financial help. People are accusing the district administration of having pressurized them to sign affidavits which state that they have to leave the relief camp and return to their villages after availing financial assistance. So there are reports of forced return. There are also reports that people are skeptical about forgoing their claims over their properties that will be either be allegedly taken over those who force them to flee or be confiscated. These kind of claims reflect the deep sense of suspicion that has developed among the people who have unfortunately seeing the government as a polarizing agent prior to elections.

Nonetheless, distant from all of this, it cannot be denied that some victims have quietly started to rebuild their lives. Attempts are being made to restore children’s education. New homes are coming up on the land donated by the local community. But when it comes to expectations from the government or the administration, a fear psychosis has unfortunately developed. The biggest challenge that confronts the administration is filling up the trust deficit between the two communities. While the urban areas have shown some sign of improvement, the communities in rural areas still see each other with an eye of suspicion and this is where the administration will have to concentrate to try and restore normalcy.


“Conditions at relief camps appalling: NHRC” Accessed October 30 URL :http://www.indianexpress.com/news/conditions-at-relief-camps-appalling-nhrc/1185589/
“Government asking us not to return: Muzffarnagar riots” Accessed November 11 URL :http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Government-asking-us-not-to-return-home-Muzaffarnagar-riot-hit/articleshow/25520562.cms
“Muzaffarnagar Riots: Uma Bharti warns of more tension if BJP leaders are arrested” Accessed September 26,2013 URL :
“Muzaffarnagar riots: 13 babies born at refugee camp, but no medical help for them” Accessed September 28 URL : http://ibnlive.in.com/news/muzaffarnagar-riots-13-babies-born-at-refugee-camp-but-no-medical-help-for-them/423039-3-242.html?utm_source=ref_article
“MuzaffanagarViolence : A Detailed Report of Citizen” (online web) Accessed September 28, 2013 URL : http://www.indiaresists.com/muzaffarnagar-violence-a-detailed-report-by-eminent-citizens
“Muzaffarnagar: Women Living at relief camp alleges rape by two men” Accessed November 11 URL :http://www.ndtv.com/article/india/muzaffarnagar-woman-living-at-relief-camp-alleges-rape-by-two-men-41134
“Their homes lost, riot-hit victims unite to rebuild lives on their own” Accessed October 30 URL:
“Muzaffarnagar violence” Accessed October 30 URL :http://www.indianexpress.com/news/muzaffarnagar-violence/1168962/

Forced Eviction and the Right to Housing: A Study of Ejipura in Bangalore

Priyanca Mathur Velath

It is usually assumed that internal displacement occurs either during conflict, communal tension, natural disaster, environmental change or due to a developmental project. But within the peaceful daily humdrum of city life there are also groups of vulnerable people who are forcibly evicted and rendered homeless overnight. The residents of the Ejipura housing colony, for the economically weaker sections, in Bengaluru city of the Karnataka state in India, in January 2013, underwent precisely that when they were forcibly evicted to make way for a mall and a residential complex.

Living homeless, bearing the vagaries of nature, the erstwhile residents of Ejipura are battling survival. It was recently reported that nearly 40 families were living under tarpaulin sheets on the footpath along the land that once had their houses. The people displaced from Ejipura alleged that “out of the blue” the Bruhat Bangalore MahanagaraPalike (BBMP), the municipal body, had decided to give their lands to a builder, Maverick Holdings. This transfer was unjust as it was without the consent of the residents. Thus the homeless are gathering together to bring out a state-level protest against such ‘land grab’, to increase awareness amongst slum-dwellers on the right to dignified housing, and to demand legal protection for example through the re-enactment of the repealed Urban Land Ceiling Act.

Being evicted from their homes and forced to live under plastic sheets and in tents, some Ejipura residents, like two elderly women and a newborn baby, have even lost their lives. As a newspaper reported, “Neelamma (60), who was running high temperature for over a week, died in her plastic tent that overlooks the site where the construction of the mall is apace. ‘The tent got flooded every time it rained. We could take it because we were younger, but Amma was too old,’ said Neelamma’s son Kumar”. (i) It is only ironical that some of the older women who were amongst those evicted were sleeping on the pavements right in front of a police station, in the hope that their children, especially older girls, could get some protection. However, while official state assistance has been wanting, concerned citizens, like some people studying at the prestigious Indian Institute of Management (IIM) in Bangalore, have reportedly tried to help these victims in their individual capacity.

There have been public interest litigations (PILs) filed. The Karnataka High Court has asked the BBMP to file a detailed affidavit providing information about construction of a new apartment complex for persons from economically weaker sections (EWS) at Ejipura. There have been allegations of corruption thrown at the BBMP, that it is unethically assisting private builders gain more land through such demolitions. But citizen’s anger towards this alleged nexus has been growing and more than 10,000 signatures had been collected to protest and draw attention to the plight of the Ejipura displaced. "The process of displacement that is done through slum evictions and forced rehabilitation in the outskirts is an enactment of the segregation along caste lines that has been historically practised and continues in the name of 'development'”, said one such protestor emphatically at a solidarity protest meeting held in the city. (ii)

At a public consultation organised in the city on November 7, 2013, in the backdrop of this EWS quarters demolition in Ejipura, activists, citizens and social movement leaders deliberated on the urgent need to address the right to land of the state’s urban poor. Issac Arul Selva, member of the Forum Against EWS Land Grab, reiterated that the state government should cancel its agreement with the private party by withdrawing the government’s decision, and build temporary shelters on the same land for the displaced persons to restore their right to a home and land that had been snatched away from them. “We are asking the state government to transfer land rights to the urban poor who have been living on the land. The government has already surveyed all the government land in all 21 cities in the state and have data on the people living there. If the state cabinet decides to give land rights to these people, more than 60% of the slum problem will be solved,” he said. (iii)

Ejipura, is an ironic symbol of the failure of the state’s attempt to make the displaced stakeholders in the development process. In exchange for half of the land (on which they were to build the mall), Maverick Holdings was to construct multi-storied flats for the 1,512 Ejipura residents on the remaining half of land (on the public-private partnership model). All hitherto established norms of participation and information were violated as no written notice was given to the residents before demolition. Instead there was use of force and violence, along with arbitrary arrests and illegal detention. The homeless had to endure loss and destruction of personal possessions and property. They had to further endure lack of official relief and rehabilitation. Only civil society organisations and volunteers had raised money for food and medical supplies for them.

There were also allegations of differential treatment meted out to allottees and tenants. Although an alternative accommodation site was provided at Sulekunte village near Sarjapur, about 18 km from the original site. For those displaced from Ejipura a daily commute for work was not easy from Sarjapur. On the footpaths of Ejipura, the displaced people have limited access to clean drinking water, sanitation and other basic amenities, and there is constant fear of theft and violence.

It is a picture of complete violation of human rights; of the right to health, as the Ejipura evictees became susceptible to cough, cold, malaria, respiratory ailments plus trauma of eviction, and other psycho-social ailments; of the right to adequate housing; of the right to work and livelihood, particularly women who were unable to leave their children and belongings and get back to work; of the right to education, as nearly all the displaced children of Ejipura could not get back to school.(iv)

At the official level, unfortunately, the response has been just a blame game, and comprised only of passing the buck. When questioned BBMP officials express sympathy and shock but obviously they had consented to eviction in the first place. Post all the protest that marked the Ejipura eviction the state Ministry of Housing’s response was to assure that no EWS housing project will be undertaken under a public-private partnership model as a joint venture as that ends up in ‘commercial exploitation of social housing project for the poor’. (v) But it rests to be seen as to what extent these are mere empty words. As it has been pointed out that when such housing projects are undertaken housing should be provided to not just allottees but all families.

This urges us to look at the wider picture and brings us to the imperative to question the government’s housing policies for the poor and homeless. How legitimate are all the measure that a government undertakes in the name of urban development? Finally since most of the Ejipura displaced are Dalits, this points to a clear violation of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities Act) 1989. In fact 99 per cent of urban housing shortage in India pertains to the Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) and Low Income Groups (LIG). Unfortunate events like the Ejipura eviction serve as a critical reminder of how highhandedness of the state results in the violation of many constitutional rights most importantly the right to live with dignity.


i) Mondal, Sudipto ‘Births and Deaths on the footpaths of Ejipura’, The Hindu, July 31, 2013, Bangalore edition.
ii) Mukherjee, Saswati ‘Displaced Ejipura residents cry foul, stage protest’, The Times of India, April 13, 2013, Bangalore.
iii) See ‘Delegation to urge CM to scrap Ejipura Project’, The Hindu, Bangalore, November 7, 2013.
iv) “Return Ejipura slum land to the poor: Activists”, Deccan Chronicle, November 7, 2013.
v) SeeGovernance By Denial: Forced Eviction and Demolition of Homes in Koramangala (Ejipura), Bangalore, (2013) Interim Report of a Fact-Finding Mission, Housing for Land Rights, Delhi and Peoples’ Union for Civil Liberties, Karnataka, March

A Response from the Global South On “Negotiations of Engaged Scholarship and Equity through a Global Network of Refugee Scholars”

- Paula Banerjee

Since I have been part of RRN activities for over half a decade now I endorse a lot that has been said in this paper. However, I would like to make some additions to this discussion. My response would be as a scholar/activist from the global South. Also in no way am I suggesting that my critique is towards RRN but I am speaking of transnational projects in general.

In a North-South collaborative project on forced migration researchers from the global South go through a gamut of emotions. I will try to analyse them as objectively as possible below:

1.From the beginning Southern researchers feel wary and constrained because most of these grants come from the global North and project leadership is also in the hands of scholars from the North. No matter how egalitarian the researchers are from the global North they are also bound structurally as the terms of the project are framed in such a way that from the beginning a hierarchy is established. Most of the researchers of the global South do not categorise themselves as merely scholars but proudly call themselves as activist too, no matter how solid their credentials are as a scholar. However, within the framework of Northern research structure a scholar is more privileged than an activist and so from the initial stages they feel disadvantaged. Yet there is this feeling among many of scholars from the South that without first-hand experiences of dealing with displacement they cannot comment on forced migration. Therefore, they feel this grassroots work is their social capital. Yet in the echelons of higher learning in the North this aspect make them particularly suitable for grassroots research because this is what the South can uniquely contribute as theories are in plethora in the global North already. So in this way roles are delineated and hierarchies are established. The scholars from the global North remain baffled at this change in behavior of those they thought as compatriots and the scholars from the South feel that their abilities are not properly utilised affecting the teamwork that is so essential in transnational projects.

2.As has been reported in the paper in cross-cultural research things get lost in translation. I would like to expand a little on this theme. In transnational research it is very essential to have interlocutors from the South who are in contact with the forced migrant populations themselves. Because what ultimately comes to fore is a product of double translation. The first time researchers from the global South translate the life stories of the displaced for their own use and then it is retranslated for the consumption of the policymakers of the North. In this double translation, and here I am not talking of language alone, there is a lot that gets lost. Sometimes researchers are selected from the centres of power in the global South, little islands of North in the South. These researchers often might not have first-hand experiences in peripheral areas where forced migration is happening therefore, the number of translations increase to the detriment of scholarship.

3.This brings us to the third problem of transnational research. Often institutions of the North collaborate with their mirror images in the South. There is a little comfort in working with people that we are familiar in our daily lives. Therefore, there are many organisations in global South that have so many projects that they often end up producing tardy research and in continuation of certain myths. Yet there might be groups that can produce excellent research yet their politics might seem too critical. Often these voices of criticality are drowned at the altar of comfort and camaraderie. Unless there is space made for these critical voices that is often considered “undesirable” much of the objectivity of the research will be lost and honesty jeopardised. Even if these voices are acerbic we should have the courage to take it on board.

4.In the report it has been stated that culture or misunderstandings emanating from culture is often an impediment in transnational research. I completely endorse this view. I was aghast that only three researchers from the South responded to the survey conducted by RRN. Then I realised the great apathy that much of the global South has of responding to surveys. Much of African researchers and researchers from South Asia would prefer if such surveys are conducted face to face. Our cultures are based on communal (kith-kin) networks and so impersonal surveys are still regarded as unwanted impediments to every day work. However, if this survey was tied to a program where one extra day could have been allotted for survey I am sure most of the respondents would have participated in it. Telephone surveys, Facebook, Twitter are still seldom used by scholars of the present generation of the global South for purposes of research. These methods are still considered suspect yet in the global North it is accepted. In the global South these cannot replace interpersonal face to face contact even now. Probably we still have to wait for a future group of transnational citizens from the global South sans the memory of the colonial past, who would be enthusiastic about these methods.

5.Last but not the least to the global South there is no global South. This is considered as northern vision. Those who form the South think of their own regions as unique, there might be commonalities but these commonalities are also predicated on massive differences. It would be naive to think that because there is forced migration in Africa and South Asia the solutions would be similar. Scholars from the South are particularly proud of their individuality. This can be seen as a post-colonial by product and they want their problems to be worthy of singular attention, which becomes difficult in transnational projects based on North/South comparisons.

The possible way-out:

a.Joint leadership of projects. This will increase trust among the southern scholars.
b.Relationship with groups that has established contact with the forced migrants themselves.
c.Accepting that even the South has some unique theoretical interventions to offer.
d.More stress on qualitative rather than quantitative research.
e.Understanding and accepting uniqueness of each region and then formulating projects.
f.Partners should be taken on board from the stage of formulation of the project and made equal stakeholders
g.They should be consulted, informed, engaged face to face whenever possible. There should be built in costs for holding meetings not just in the global North but also in the global South.

Monday, July 29, 2013


After a haitus of several months, Refugee Watch Online is back with contributions from three (of the four) best papers presented before a conference organized by the Hidayatullah National Law University, Raipur titled “Round Table Conference on India and the Refugee Convention”. Organized over two days in October 2012, the Conferece brought together students from several law colleges in India, officials from UNHCR, academics, lawyers and NGOs working on forced migration and some officials from the Government of India. Three themes formed the subject of discussion, the International legal framework, its strenghts and what it lacks, the ground situation and the last one, on India's reservations to the 1951 Refugee Convention. The three papers represent each theme.

The conference was a good attempt in addressing some important concerns that continue to remain relevant. However, the conference ought to have done a bit more reserarch to enquire into the more recent developments and comprehensively thought out what specific concerns to highlight within the three themes to make the best of the opportunity. To their credit, we have not seen a refugee rights conference in law colleges in some time.

Having said this, the discussions were thought provoking, raising some pertinent and as some would argue, very radical questions on the concept of refugeehood, why refugees living in India should not be given citizenship and at the same time, if India is not already burdened by its own problems (“poverty”) to take on additional responsibility to care for refugees. An official from the Ministry of External Affairs participated on the second day of the conference and argued that India has done what it can, to care for refugees.

The student presentation selected here include the ones that got the first three best papers award. Prakhar Pandey, a 3rd year student of Hidayatullah National Law University focuses on international law attempting to “throw light on the loopholes that were left unplugged by framers of the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees (1951 Convention) and which are now being exploited by member states”. He concludes by pointing out that allowing refugees to live a life of dignity is hugely determined by politics and funding.

Akansha Seth, a II year student of law from National Law University, Delhi plays the devil's advocate when she asks whether there are good reasons to defend India's stand on the Refugee Convention. In summarizing India's position and the arguments made in its defence as a non-signatory to the Convention, Akansha ably brings out India “concerns”. Perhaps however, we need to remind ourselves that India's role on Ex-Com equally contradicts this position. Be that as it may, understanding India's unstated policy, made possible by just these defences that Akansha is able to articulate so well, remains a fascinating task.

The final contribution is from a I year law student from the National Law University of India, Bangalore. Vishwajeet Singh Bhati's paper considers the legal and political situation of the Pakistani Hindu refugees in Gujarat and Rajasthan. Focused maily in Rajasthan where Bhati also travels and meets with several actors, the paper brings out the daily experiences of refugees as well as it put it in a historical and politcial context. Bhati also interviews Hindu Singh Sodha and others who have recently arrived in India. While the former has been included in this edition verbatim, interviews with refugees has not been included since it forms part of his paper.

In all, the highlight of the conference were the students, for the debates that ensued and the papers they presented.

In Defence of the Indian Reservations to the Refugee Convention: Playing the Devil’s Advocate?

Akansha Seth


Indian borders have been growing increasingly porous with some of the largest inflows in history ever since independence 1 increasing its refugee population by the day. 2 It is looked upon as a safety haven due to the operation of a variety of factors - geographical, cultural, strategic, political and social. It is the democratic and peaceful resident of a relatively volatile neighbourhood. As the fault lines diminish and the borders between the countries blur owing to the growing cosmopolitan culture, India’s reservations to the Refugee Convention are viewed critically by the international community as well as by domestic agencies 3. India can be viewed as parochial; as intensely communitarian; or alternatively, as an economically developing welfare state unable to fulfil every requirement of the Convention 4 and therefore choosing to not promise what it cannot deliver. An attempt at counter-criticism, this paper seeks to construct a case in favour of the Indian reservations to the 1951 Convention before letting the strong international and domestic civil society critique overpower the merits of the Indian case. How valid are the Indian reservations? To what extent are they relevant in advocating against the creation of a national legislation relating to refugees? 5

Reviewing the Status Quo: Shirking or Shouldering Responsibility?

Cross-border population movements in South Asia are an important factor affecting internal security, political stability and international relations and not simply the structure and the composition of the labour market or the provision of services to new-comers. 6 In 1997, numerous reports of Human Rights Watch indicated that the protection for refugees and asylum seekers around the world have deteriorated in the past couple of decades. However, in the past decade, awareness has increased as various United Nations agencies and NGOs started taking note of the same. SAARC countries also share concerns of the Indian government and have thus refrained from signing the convention.7

The Concept of Burden Sharing

As citizens of the world, humanitarian concerns and those of sharing rights as well as duties have prompted the concept of burden sharing among states which appears in the preamble to the 1951 convention.8 The concept of burden sharing is also contained in various regional agreements including Organization of Africa Unity, 1969 9; Bangkok Principles Concerning the Treatment of Refugees, 1966 10 and various European Union Instruments 11. Is India, a non-signatory to the 1951 Convention, shirking its burden?

India continues to receive refugees despite its own over-a-billion population with at least six hundred million living in poverty and limited access to basic amenities. 12 The continuously growing refugee influx 13 creates drains on the already weak infrastructure, strained resources and the developing economy of the nation.

Asylum seekers in India arrive from various countries of origin, primarily- Nepal, China, Iran, Iraq, Sri Lanka, Burma, Bangladesh, Somalia, Sudan, Afghanistan and Bhutan. 14 India has provided them with land to establish educational institutions and other social programmes. Many NGOs are taking up their cause in India. Though India does not have uniform laws for the refugees, it has repeatedly claimed that its policies are in tandem with the international norms and values. These claims are not completely unfounded.

The Lack of a Definition

One of the greatest criticisms levelled against India is that the term ‘refugee’ is not defined in the Indian laws. The fact that refugees are dealt with under the same laws that apply to a foreigner, deprives the former of privileges available under the Geneva Convention 15. The legal vacuum means that refugees are dealt with on an ad hoc basis and live in the shadow of constant fear of changes in the foreign policy and political expediency, which primarily determines how refugees are to be treated. 16 It also violates the right to equality guaranteed under Article 14 of the Constitution to both citizens and non-citizens. 17

In Defence of India

The definition of the term ‘refugee’ under the 1951 convention is very narrow and constrained. At the fifty-fourth session of the Executive committee meeting of the UNHCR in 2003, the Indian representative voiced this concern when he stated that “... the definition fails to recognise ‘the fundamental factors that give rise to refugee movements...”.18 He further went on to elaborate that “...most refugee movements ‘are directly related to widespread abject poverty and deprivation around the globe...’ particularly in the developing world such as most of South Asia”.19

The circumstances underlying the exodus of refugees from their countries of origin vary from political persecution in the case of the Chin refugees of Myanmar to civil war between the Tamil nationalists and the Sinhalese government. 20 Thus there are many categories of displaced people which the 1951 Convention’s definition does not cover, including victims of natural and/or man-made disasters and the internally displaced persons and those displaced as a result of loss of livelihood.

India is a signatory to various other international and regional treaties and conventions such as the UN Declaration on Territorial Asylum (1967), the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 and the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights. 21

Its intention behind not signing the 1951 Convention are therefore, not founded in vested interests. The fact that India has remained a non-signatory to the convention 22 and its protocol should, in no way suggest that it is shirking its responsibility towards its refugee population or that it has tried to evade liability so far. There may be reasons, after all, which require perusal before the blame-game proceeds any further. India has had apprehensions over Article 35 of the Convention 23 which imposes the responsibility of the supervision of refugee processing by UNHCR. This, it feels, would be a threat to its sovereignty. In addition, governments of South Asia by and large have voiced that migration is a matter of bilateral and not multilateral relations and that international agreements could restrict their freedom of action. 24 India, too, prefers a bilateral approach between the state parties involved.25 It also fears uncontrolled infiltration of terrorists, criminals and unwarranted elements.

The Possibility of Local Integration

One reason for not signing the 1951 Convention is that India, with its experience of massive crises and large refugee influx gives it some locus standi to assert that it can preclude the necessity of a framework. 26 The UNHCR views India as a State in which local integration of refugees is eminently achievable. 27 This also throws light on UNHCR’s focus in India on local integration as a solution rather than repatriation or resettlement, thus, putting an unfair burden on India.28 India is known for its commendable record of assimilating and integrating the refugee population.29 The recognition of this fact by the UNHCR is evident in its acknowledgement of the same in the form of its policy of promoting local integration of the refugees in India 30, especially of those from neighbouring states due to cultural and social similarities instead of repatriation or resettlement. This increasing permanence of shelter-seekers does put a comparatively greater burden on the limited resources of the country 31 and this treatment of India as a permanent safety haven may be argued to be unfair.

Disadvantageous Laws Versus a Liberal Constitution

Many refugees in India face poverty and discrimination at the workplace. Section 10 of the Foreigners Order, 1948 enumerates sectors of employment not available to foreigners unless they obtain special government approval. 32 As the legal status of refugees is still a grey area, their wages remain low. They also face arbitrary arrests and detention. The Foreigners Act, 1948 allows the government to refuse entry to any foreigner not holding valid documents. Under Section 3 of the Foreigners Act, 1946, the Ministry of Home Affairs grants but not guarantees residency status to recognized refugees in India.33

Despite the lack of specific protective laws, the Indian Constitution is a saviour and has been interpreted in the past to extend certain protective guarantees to non-citizens. The language of Articles 14 and 21 make those rights available to foreigners as well as to citizens. 34 The Supreme Court has held in that “Every person is entitled to equality before the law and equal protection of the laws...the state is bound to protect the life and liberty of every human being, be he a citizen or otherwise...”. 35

The Way Ahead

India has refused offers and efforts of UNHCR and other international organisations to monitor how it treats refugees. According to the U.S. Committee for Refugees Country Report on India, out of the more than 300,000 refugees in India only 18,500 have received UNHCR protection. In 1992, when the Tamil Nadu government withdrew rations and facilities from Sri Lankan Tamil refugees 36 to force them to return to Sri Lanka 37, India contravened its policy of promoting only ‘voluntary’ repatriation.

Conclusion: How Valid are India's Concerns?

Signing the 1951 Refugee Convention would not only bind India its obligations, but it would also provide for substantial international assistance from other U.N. member states.38 There is little substance to this criticism as the 1951 Convention does not require a higher standard of treatment for recognised refugees than that is applied in protecting the rights of its own citizens. Another unique feature of the Indian refugee problem is politicization and the use of these ethnic and social minorities as vote banks.39 However, stepping beyond these factors, the proposed refugee law states that “the decision to grant asylum is a humanitarian act that should be made without political considerations”.40

India has done without a refugee law so far but with increasing mass influx and violations becoming rampant, such a law has indeed become a dire necessity. As the only stable democracy in the region 41, it has a greater responsibility to ensure fair and equal treatment and increased accountability even towards non-citizens which ad hoc policies can never guarantee. Increased discretion and the lack of a framework also places India in a disadvantaged position owing to its ethnic plurality and ambivalent relationships with its neighbours.


1. Sarbani Sen, ‘Paradoxes of the international regime of care: the role of the UNHCR in India’, in Ranabir Samaddar (ed.) Refugees and the State: Practices and Asylum and Care in India, 1947-2000 (2003) p. 398.
2. UNHCR, ‘Burden-Sharing- Discussion paper submitted by UNHCR Fifth Annual Plenary Meeting of the APC’, ISIL Yearbook of International Humanitarian and Refugee Law, Vol. 17 (2001), at http://www.worldii.org/int/journals/ISILYBIHRL/2001/7.html.
3. The National Human Rights Commission has submitted various reports urging the promulgation of a national law- Rajeev Dhavan, On the Model Law for Refugees: A Response to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), NHRC Annual Reports 1997-1998, 1999-2000 (New Delhi: PILSARC, 2003).
4. T. Ananthachari, Refugees in India: Legal Framework, Law Enforcement and Security, at http://www.worldii.org/int/journals/ISILYBIHRL/2001/17.html. ; Cited in South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre, Human Rights and Humanitarian Law- Developments in India and International Law (1st ed. 2008) p. 193.
5. South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre, Human Rights and Humanitarian Law- Developments in India and International Law (1st ed. 2008) p. 193.
6. Myron Weiner, Rejected Peoples and Unwanted Migrants in South Asia, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 28 (1993), pp. 1737-1746 at p. 1739.
7. Supra note 6 p. 192.
8. Paragraph 4 of the Preamble, 1951 Convention reads, “The grant of asylum may place unduly heavy burdens on certain countries, and that a satisfactory solution of a problem of which the United nations has recognized the international scope and nature cannot therefore be achieved without international cooperation.
9. Article II (4) Organization of Africa Unity, 1969.
10. In the 1987 addendum to the Bangkok Principles Concerning the Treatment of Refugees, 1966.
11. Dublin Convention, 1997; the Hague Programme adopted by the European Heads of State or Government in November 2004 established the Common European Asylum system; among others.
12. Arjun Nair, National Refugee Law for India: Benefits and Roadblocks, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, New Delhi, IPCS Research Papers, 2007.
13. United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, http://www.refugees.org/WRS_Archives/2007/48-69., and supported by the latest figures from the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR).
14. US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, Country Report for India 2006, at http://www.refugees.org/countryreports.aspx/id=1558.
15. The 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol, The 1951 Geneva Convention,UNHCR-Public Relations Section, http://www.unhcr.org/home/PUBL/3b5e90ea0.pdf.
16. Supra note 6. See also, Rajiv Dhavan, Refugee Law and Policy in India (1st ed. 2004) pp. 136-137.
17. Article 14, The Constitution of India.
18. Indian Representative to the Executive Committee of the UNHCR, Fifty-fourth Session of the Executive Committee meeting of the UNHCR (2003) cited in supra note 13; originally in supra note 17 p. 29.
19. Ibid.
20. Supra note 14.
21. T Ananthachari, Towards a National Refugee Law for India, in P R Chari, Mallika Joseph, and Suba Chandran (eds.), Missing Boundaries: Refugees, Migrants, Stateless and Internally Displaced Persons in South Asia (2003), pp. 99-107.
22. The United Nations Convention related to the status of the Refugees, 1951.
23. Article 35, The United Nations Convention related to the status of the Refugees, 1951.
24. Supra note 9.
25. T. Ananthachari, Refugees in India: Legal Framework, Law Enforcement and Security, ISIL Yearbook of International Humanitarian and Refugee Law, Vol. 17 (2001) at- http://www.worldii.org/int/journals/ISILYBIHRL/2001/17.html.
26. Similar thoughts also reflected in: B.S. Chimni, Status of Refugees in India: Strategic Ambiguity, in Ranabir Samaddar (ed.) Refugees and the State: Practices of Asylum and Care in India, 1947-2000, (2003) p.445.
27. Supra note 17, p. 113.
28. SAHRDC, Abandoned and Betrayed: Afghan Refugees under UNHCR Protection in New Delhi, New Delhi: SAHRDC (1999).
29. Supra note 6, pp. 193-194.
30. Rajiv Dhavan, Refugee Law and Policy in India (1st ed. 2004) p. 113.
31. Supra note 6.
32. Article 10, the Foreigners Order, 1948.
33. Section 3, The Foreigners Act, 1946.
34. Louis De Raedt v. Union of India (1991) 3 SCC 554.
35. National Human Rights Commission v. State of Arunachal Pradesh, (1996) 1 SCC 742 at paragraph 20
36. Half Repatriation of the Sri Lankan Tamils, Asia Watch, 5 (11), (August 1993), pp. 4-5.
37. Hiram A. Ruiz, ‘People want Peace’: Repatriation and Reintegration in War-Torn Sri Lanka, (1994), pp. 25-26.
38. Supra note 22.
39. Sumbul Rizvi, Managing Refugees: Role of the UNHCR in South Asia, in Chari et al, pp. 195-196.
40. The Refugees and Asylum Seekers (Protection) Bill, 2006, Public Interest Legal Support and Research Centre at www.pilsarc.org.
41. Supra note 14.

‘Derelict’: Pakistani Hindu Refugees in Rajasthan and Gujarat

Vishwajeet Singh Bhati


In providing a short albeit historical account of Pakistani Hindu refugees, the article, it is hoped, gives a clear picture of the issue and on this basis, expose the reader to the present status of these refugees. As a result of government dereliction, Pakistani Hindu refugees do not have access to basic facilities and face restricted freedoms, which in turn highlights the prevalent administrative ineffectiveness and ignorance. It reiterates that in the absence of a uniform refugee policy, India is impaired in handling refugee populations. The ad-hoc refugee policy is inefficient as is evident from the conditions of refugee groups in India, the Pakistani Hindus being a part of them. This paper serves to give a voice to the plight of the Pakistani Hindu refugees and in the backdrop of it suggest some points for their betterment. In the process, the article seeks to answer the following questions. What has compelled Hindus in Pakistan to flee to India, what number of refugees are found in Rajasthan and Gujarat, two states known to house the largest numbers? Has the rehabilitation package for refugees who came in 1971 made a difference in the lives of the refugees? What is their present status and what efforts on part of the government and activists have been made to redress their plight?

Identifying the Pakistani Hindus

As per the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (hereafter UNHCR), India hosts a total of 1,85,118 refugees and 3518 asylum seekers as of January 2012.1 Pakistani Hindus account for nearly 1,10,000. A majority are known to live in parts of Rajasthan and Gujarat and while some have been given citizenship, many others are forced to perpetually renew their visas. The degree of neglect is such that they are often confused with the Pakistani Sindhis who flew in from Pakistan 2 in the post partition scenario. The ones arriving in the more recent past are Hindus belonging to various castes like the Meghwals, Bhils, Sansis, Jogis, Odhs, Rajputs, Brahmins, Malis, Rabaris, Sonars, Jats, Nais, Darzis among others.3 A major chunk of them resided in Thar Parkar 4 district of Sindh; others are from the districts of Umarkot, Mirpur Khas, Hyderabad in Sindh and Rahimyar Khan and Bahawalpur in Punjab. Some of these refugees have a distinct cultural identity - their own language Dhatki 5 but at the same time share a lot in common with the people living across the border in Rajasthan and Gujarat. Some others comprise the more common Marwari and Gujarati speaking people. They were actually of Rajasthani and, to a lesser extent, Gujarati origin and traditionally engaged in seasonal migration to work in the fertile fields of Sindh. This seasonal migration continued till the mid-1960s after which the Indo-Pak border was fenced and many of them could not return to their homes.6 As The Nowhere People, an unpublished report by Seemant Lok Sanghathan notes, most of them were landless Dalits and Tribals, in addition to which they were mostly illiterate and poor.

Places in Rajasthan Where the Migrants are Currently Residing (Both Rehabilitated and Non-Rehabilitated People (Taken from The Nowhere People)

A Timeline of Events: The 1965 and 1971 Waves of Influx

According to Seemant Lok Sanghatan, Pakistani Hindus took to flight in two major waves- in 1965 and 1971. Considerable migration took place during the Indo-Pak war of 1965 when some 10,000 people crossed over to India. The second and the most colossal transfer took place when India occupied a large part of Thar Parkar in the 1971 Indo-Pak war. It was due to this occupation that almost 90,000 people got temporarily shifted into Indian Territory and decided not to return. These patterns of migration need to be seen in the light of the Shimla Agreement of 1972 where India decided to return the annexed territory back to Pakistan and Pakistan also accepted to take back its citizens. However, as it turned out most Hindus did not want to return to Pakistan. Hindu Singh Sodha of the Seemanth Lok Sanghatan spearheading the movement for rights of Pak Hindus, argues that Pakistan also did not show any interest in accepting these people back.

Why did the Hindus migrate? Pakistan, at the time of Independence, chose to be an Islamic republic. Going by its 1998 Census, it can be clearly discerned that Hindus were a meagre 1.6%, of the total population. 7 As a minority, they had to face discrimination and religious persecution in the form of abductions, rape and forced conversions at the hands of fundamentalists. Also, the law and order situation in Pakistan was never stable. 8 As a result, there was a sense of insecurity prevailing in the minds of the Hindus. In addition, the conditions of war led to serious repercussions and most of them found Pakistan unsafe.

Accommodation in the Camps

Those who migrated in 1965 and 1971 have been officially rehabilitated but it had serious faults. The 1965 migrants were never accorded refugee status but over time most of them were granted Indian citizenship and relocated in villages and colonies in Rajasthan and Gujarat. Hindu Singh Sodha notes that this process of securing citizenship and basic amenities was not hassle-free. For the refugees of 1971, some information is available in official statements. Colonel Sona Ram Choudhary, an MP, in responding to a query in the Lok Sabha on 25 February 1977 stated that the central government established 24 refugee camps in Barmer district. The camps had limited tents and multiple families were assigned a single tent. Ration cards were issued to the heads of families. There were strict rules pertaining to the conduct and stay of the refugees, and movements restricted; refugees were forced to remain inside the camps and many were refused permission to visit their families. Hindu Singh Sodha also notes that there were daily roll calls, suggesting the strict surveillance prevelant at the time.

The Rehabilitation Package and Its Shortcomings

The Janata Party Government, after coming into power in 1978 in the Centre and in Rajasthan initiated the process of granting citizenship. As Hindu Singh Sodha explains, not only were District Magistrates authorized in Rajasthan and Gujarat to grant citizenship, a rehabilitation package was also implemented. The 1965 refugees were allocated villages inhabited by Muslims who migrated to Pakistan during the 1965 Indo-Pak war. For the 1971 refugees, the rehabilitation package included grant of land and a total of Rs. 90 million in cash from the Centre. Each family was to be allotted either 25 bighas (roughly 10 hectares) of land in the canal area or 75 bighas (roughly 30 hectares) of barren land in the desert.

Seemant Lok Sanghathan's survey in 2000 documented the implementation of the rehabilitation package. According to it, land was officially allocated to 4033 families in Barmer district, 3166 families in the command area of the Indira Gandhi Canal in Bikaner district, 507 families in Jaisalmer district and 51 families in Jalore district. Most of the land was of poor quality and uncultivable, both in the canal area and in the arid zone. Besides that, the State Government asked for Rs 30,000, to be paid over 20 years against 18% as revenue for each murabba (25 acres) of land from families, a huge sum for mostly poor families. The survey revealed that many families did not get any land at all due to administrative ignorance and corruption. A part of the land allocated for rehabilitation came under the Desert National Park, hear Jaisalmer. There were also reported instances of locals opposing the grant of land as well as illegal occupation of these lands. In one incident in Vedihar (Kutch, Gujarat), as the survey documents, 500 locals attacked refugees resulting in one death.

The Post 1992 Surge

The influx of refugees did not cease after 1971. Hindus continued to migrate on visas and stayed back. The demolition Babri Masjid further ignited tensions across the border and Hindus in Pakistan had to face the wrath of the Muslims.9 As a result, the influx suddenly flared.

Unlike the refugees coming in the mid 1960s, the ones that came later, including the post 1992 refugees were neither recognized as refugees, not given citizenship. Visa renewals became tedious and costly and many were denied renewals. People, most of whom had relatives living in the border districts, were unable to travel, given that their movement were confined to the cities for which they initially got the visas. As foreign nationals, no formal employment was open to refugees, with the result that they started working as daily wage labourers and highly exploited. They had to stay for at least a period of five years before they could apply for citizenship under the Citizenship Act of 1955, which now has been extended to 7 years.

Continuing Influx and Activist Efforts

Owing to minority discrimination and persecution and the rise of fundamentalism, it is unlikely that Pak Hindu refugees will stop fleeing to India. In this scenario, the issue of citizenship has became the primary agenda for both refugees and activists. Citizenship however has proved elusive. While the residency period under section 5 of the Citizenship Act, 1955 was initially 5 years, it has now been extended to 7 years. Also, after the signing of the Assam Accord in 1986, the Government of India withdrew the power vested in District Magistrates to grant citizenship and transferred it into the hands of the Ministry of Home Affairs in New Delhi. For the poor and illiterate migrants, applying in New Delhi is an expensive and arduous process. In addition, the citizenship application process requires that the applicant hold a valid passport, visa 10 and a Residence Permit issued by the Foreigners Registration Office, none of which Pakistani Hindus are able to possess. The application fee is prohibitively expensive. As a result, the lack of citizenship amounts to denial of basic rights, and as a result, basic services such as health care and education; this has created a vicious circle of illiteracy and poverty.

Seemant Lok Sanghathan, which has been at the forefront of securing rights of refugees has lobbied both the governments of Rajasthan and India for modification of the citizenship process. In 2001-2002, a State level Review Committee was set up as a result of its efforts. At the time, it recommended the following, among which only the first two were accepted:

•Accept applications of Pakistani nationals on receipt of a simple affidavit renouncing Pakistani citizenship.
•Setting up of cells in Jodhpur, Jaisalmer and Barmer to facilitate the processing of applications for citizenship.
•Pakistani nationals resident in India for five years be allowed to visit the border districts.

In January 2004, the Government of India decided to grant citizenship to Pakistani migrants of 1965 and 1971 living in Barmer and Jaisalmer through citizenship camps. According to Hindu Singh Sodha, this excluded those who came post 1971 and had stayed for more than five years. In February of the same year, the Government decided to grant citizenship to all eligible people delegated the power under Section 16 of the Citizenship Act, 1955 to District Magistrates in Rajasthan and Gujarat. Meanwhile the processing fee for application was hiked but subsequently rolled back as a result of protest from the Seemant Lok Sanghatan. In January and February 2005, a Government notification lead to setting up of citizenship camps in which more than 13,000 refugees became Indian citizens. The powers given to the District Magistrates were extended for another year. Even after the organisation of citizenship camps, many were reportedly left out either because of their inability to afford the application fee or because of absence of documents. The camps concluded its task in two months, which many, including Sodha argue was insufficient time.

The Bhil basti in Kali Beri: An Account of Resettlement and Its Implementation

The Bhil basti (colony, ghetto) provides an excellent example of the living conditions of the refugees. Located in Kali Beri, the colony is situated in the outskirts of Jodhpur and was established when they occupied government lands about 15 years back. About 250 Pakistani Hindu families live in the colony and include those who have been naturalized as citizens as well as those who continue to wait for citizenship. Houses are built of mud and stone with little or no access to electricity, sanitation, health care facilities or water supply. Most people living in the basti were agricultural labourers in Pakistan.

The conditions in which the migrants live are deplorable. While only half of the colony has access to water, there is no system in place to ensure that the water provided to them is clean. Sanitation is non existent, impacting women more than men. Toilets constructed for the school are in an unusable condition. No proper health care facility exists in the vicinity of the colony. The nearest Primary Health Care centre is about three kilometres away and the General Hospital is about ten kilometres from the basti. Located about 15 kms from the main city and having infrequent transport services makes it impossible for people to access services in an emergency. It is reported that doctors and hospital authorities often neglect people from this community. It is not uncommon for complications and deaths due to the absence of health care even in case of diseases that can otherwise be cured easily. 11 Most of those who have acquired citizenship have ration cards and are eligible to have BPL cards. Many however are unable to get one owing to delays and lenghty process and what some call “unnecessary” inquiries. 12 Taking into consideration their poverty, granting BPL status is a necessary step in their upliftement.

Children form a large chunk of the basti’s population (60-65 children enrolled in primary school) but have little or no access to education. The primary school in the basti which has only one teacher. Children have to travel long distances to reach the nearest high school.

Those without citizenship are barred from taking up any sort of work in India. Most migrants in the basti belong to the Bhil, a tribal community, engaged mostly in agriculture. Refugees are however reported to be working in sandstone quarries.

The Present Condition

According to a report, nearly 5000 Hindus crossed the border to take refuge in India till September, 2009 though they claimed not to stay. There is a clear increase in the trickle with 880 people crossing over in 2007, 1240 in 2008 and 1000 till August 2009. 13 According to Hindu Singh Sodha, as of September 2012, nearly 7000 refugees in Rajasthan and about 2000 in Gujarat are believed to have arrived. A batch of around 350 people, which included 150 children and 90 women, came to Jodhpur aboard the Thar Express in the same month and were lodged in a temple on the outskirts of Jodhpur. This is considered to be one of the largest influxes of Hindus from Pakistan in the recent times. 14 Mostly arriving on pilgrim visas, refugees have no intention to return. It is reported that the Pakistan government makes them sign a bond declaring that they would return, in order to project Pakistan's image as a tolerant country. 15 Factors contributing to the flight remain unchanged although the force with which these factors are operating in Pakistan is greater now. The rising influence of the Taliban is another factor. With their increasing influence over areas of Sindh and Punjab, 16 Hindus are an easy target. There have been instances of violence, rape abductions and forced conversions.17 Pakistan chose to be an Islamic country and hence there is a firm grip of fundamentalists over its society. The result is persecution of minorities. One very evident case showing the practice of abduction and forced conversion of Hindu girls is the Rinkle Kumari Case. 18 The state of Pakistan and its affairs are in shambles.19


The Pakistani Hindu refugees are a highly ignored lot facing a number of problems including the non-provision of citizenship and lack of access to basic facilities. Hindus continue to arrive in India making it an important issue to address. This can be done by adopting a refugee policy with clear and well defined provisions. These further need to be implemented in letter and spirit. India has always been an accommodative and tolerant country and in furtherance of its constitutional principles and its international obligations it becomes imperative for the Government to take some affirmative action to benefit the cause of these refugees.


1.For detailed data see 2012 Regional Profiles Operations, available at http://www.unhcr.org/pages/49e4876d6.html (Last visited on September 18, 2012).
2. They are ethnic Sindhis who primarily speak Sindhi. For more understanding of the issue of Pakistani Sindhi refugees and for purposes of distinguishing them from the more general Pakistani Hindu refugees refer to Victor Barnouw, The Sindhis, Mercantile Refugees in India: Problems of their Assimilation, 27(1), PHYLON, 40, 40-49 (1966).
3. Hindu Singh Sodha, THE NOWHERE PEOPLE, 5 (2010). Unpublished.
4. Thar Parkar has a mixed Hindu Muslim population. The Muslims comprise of various castes like the Rajputs, Baluchis, Syeds and Lohanas. Hindus include people belonging to various castes like the Meghwals, Bhils, Sansis, Jogis, Odhs, Rajputs, Brahmins, Malis, Rabaris, Sonars, Jats, Nais, Darzis and several others. In the absence of proper census data, the Pakistan Hindu Council estimates that there are nearly 7000000 Hindus in the country out of which 94% are in Sindh. Going by district population figures Thar Parkar is the district with the highest number of Hindus. For figures refer to Population of Hindus in Pakistan, available at http://pakistanhinducouncil.org/hindupopulation.asp (Last visited on September 18, 2012).
5. According to Ethnologue, there are nearly 132000 people in Pakistan who speak Dhatki which is similar to Marwari. For more details visit Dhatki- A language of Pakistan, available at http://www.ethnologue.com/show_language.asp?code=mki (Last visited on September 18, 2012).
6. For more information on the close ties between the regions of Rajasthan and Sindh see Bani Gill, The Border Dialogues in Sindh and Rajasthan available at http://www.safhr.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=289:the-border-dialogues-in-sindh-and-rajasthan&catid=184:indo-pak&Itemid=624 (Last visited on September 20, 2012).
7. Due to the unavailability of census data from the Censuses of 1961 and 1971, the author had to rely on the data of Census of 1998. According to it, Hindus were a meager 1.60% of the total population where Muslims accounted for a whopping 96.28%. For the data see Population by Religion, available at http://www.census.gov.pk/Religion.htm (Last visited on September 19,2012).
8. The declaration of Martial Law in 1958, which remained in force till 1962, and the status of fundamental rights are very well discussed in the book by A.B.M. Mafizul Islam Patwari. See A.B.M. Mafizul Islam Patwari, Protection of the Constitution and Fundamental Rights under the Martial Law in Pakistan, 1958-1962 (1988) and Elliot Tepper, Pakistan in Retrospect, 27(3), INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL, 357 (1972).
9. Faiza Mirza, Where God once lived, DAWN (June 25, 2012), available at http://dawn.com/2012/06/25/where-god-once-lived/ (Last visited on September 22, 2012).
10. The present procedure for grant of citizenship involves extending visas initially. Extension is first granted for 6 months which can be subsequently renewed for another 6 months the first time, a year at the time of the subsequent 2 renewals, and 2 years for renewals after that. See Shyamveer Singh, Saat Hazar Pak Visthapito Ko Nagarikta Ka Intezaar, RAJASTHAN PATRIKA (September 22, 2012), available at http://www.rajasthanpatrika.com/news/jodhpur/9222012/city-news/373406 (Last visited on September 23, 2012).
11. Ranaram, a refugee residing in Jodhpur, lost his wife to malaria in the absence of access to healthcare. See Bhavna Vij-Aurora, No country for Pakistani Hindus, INDIA TODAY (April 27, 2012), available at http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/pakistani-hindu-refugees-suffer-in-india-no-rehabilitation/1/186372.html (Last visited on September 22, 2012).
12. Interview with Tatraram, a Pakistani migrant (Bhil Basti, Kali Beri, Jodhpur, August 4, 2012). “Unnecessary” inquiries refers to the intelligence checks that refugees are invariably made to go through, given that all Pakistani nationals are naturally suspected.
13. Vimal Bhatia, Fearing Taliban, Pak Hindus take Thar Express to India, THE TIMES OF INDIA (September 10, 2009), available at http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2009-09-10/india/28087838_1_pak-hindus-indian-citizenship-munabao (Last visited on September 22, 2012).
14. In a television report by NDTV, it was told that this is the largest number of Pakistani Hindu refugees crossing over post the fencing of the border back in the mid-1960s. See the report NDTV, Pakistani Hindus refuse to go back, demand refugee status in India, September 11, 2012.
15. Harassed in Pakistan, homeless in India, NDTV (September 17, 2012), available at http://www.ndtv.com/article/india/harassed-in-pakistan-homeless-in-india-268291 (Last visited on September 22, 2012).
16. Richard Engel, The ‘Talibanization’ of Pakistan’s biggest city, NBC NEWS (September 30, 2008), available at http://worldblog.nbcnews.com/_news/2008/09/30/4376914-the-talibanization-of-pakistans-biggest-city (Last visited on September 22, 2012).
17. Bhatia, infra note 13.
18. Rinkle Kumari was abducted by a Pakistan People’s Party parliamentarian Mian Mithu who forced her to marry Naveed Shah, his son, and convert to Islam. She approached the Supreme Court in order to be sent back to her mother but had to pay for it. Her grandfather was killed and goons roamed around her house. As a result she had to step down and accepted before the court that she converted to Islam and wanted to remain with Shah. The Court could not do anything and she was sent back to her ‘husband’. She has reportedly attempted suicide multiple times. See Anita Joshua, A growing intolerance, THE HINDU (August 21, 2012), available at http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/article3800097.ece (Last visited on September 22, 2012).
19. Failure of successive regimes in fulfilling their developmental agendas has created a crisis situation. The weakness of the judicial system and deterioration of the law and order situation blocks out any possible recourse. See Laila Bokhari, Radicalization, Political Violence, and Militancy, in THE FUTURE OF PAKISTAN, 82, 84 (2011).