India is one of the few remaining countries that has not ratified the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees or the 1967 Protocol (the U.S. is a party to the Protocol, but not the Convention). This means that India has no regular procedure for granting asylum to people fleeing persecution. Nevertheless, according to UNHCR:
[The] country hosts a large number of refugees and respects the principle of non-refoulement for holders of UNHCR documentation. India continues to grant asylum to a large number of refugees from neighbouring States, protecting and assisting some 200,000 Tibetans and Sri Lankans. In the absence of a national legal framework for asylum, UNHCR registers asylum-seekers and conducts refugee status determination (RSD) in New Delhi, mostly for arrivals from Afghanistan and Myanmar.
While this arrangement protects certain people seeking asylum, others who need assistance cannot get it, or are left to languish in refugee camps.
In a recent editorial, writer Harini Calamur eloquently explains why India needs an asylum policy. Ms. Calamur relates the story of Rinkle Kumari, a 19-year-old Hindu girl living in Pakistan. Earlier this year, a group of Muslim men broke into Rinkle’s home, kidnapped her, and forced her to convert to Islam and marry her neighbor. The group of men was connected with a local Pakistani politician and the government failed to intervene. After the case gained national attention, the Supreme Court of Pakistan sent Rinkle to a shelter where she could decide whether to remain with her husband or return to her parents. She decided to remain with her husband. Most observers believe that her decision was based on coercion–she feared that her family would be harmed if she returned home.
Ms. Calamur asks what would happen if Rinkle escaped from Pakistan and sought asylum in India. Given the absence of an asylum system, Ms. Calamur writes that in the best case, Rinkle would end up in a refugee camp:
Refugees live in camps and have neither the right to free movement within India nor are they entitled to work. Most are in a state of suspended animation and have their lives at standstill. If Rinkle and her family escaped to India this is what they would face, and there is something terribly wrong and unjust about that.
Ms. Calamur makes the case for India to adopt an asylum system:
To be considered a world power, you don’t just need a nuclear arsenal and growing prosperity. There needs also to be a measure of compassion, sharing and providing of refuge. India needs to start by offering asylum and citizenship to the persecuted minorities in its neighbourhood. There will be those who misuse this open policy, as they have in other countries. But the needs of the persecuted, the fate of one Rinkle, far outweighs the misuse of an asylum policy.
Well said, Ms. Calamur. I hope those in the West who question the need for an asylum system hear your words.
Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
Jason Dzubow's practice focuses on immigration law, asylum, and appellate litigation. Mr. Dzubow is admitted to practice law in the federal and state courts of Washington, DC and Maryland, the United States Courts of Appeals for the Third, Fourth, Eleventh, and DC Circuits, all Immigration Courts in the United States, and the Board of Immigration Appeals. He is a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) and the Capital Area Immigrant Rights (CAIR) Coalition. In June 2009, CAIR Coalition honored Mr. Dzubow for his Outstanding Commitment to Defending the Rights and Dignity of Detained Immigrants.