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.