India is neither party to the 1951 Convention on Refugees nor the 1967 Protocol. The lack of specific refugee legislation in India has led the government to adopt an ad hoc approach to different refugee influxes. The status of refugees in India is governed mainly by political and administrative decisions rather than any codified model of conduct. The ad hoc nature of the Government’s approach has led to varying treatment of different refugee groups. Some groups are granted a full range of benefits including legal residence and the ability to be legally employed, whilst others are criminalized and denied access to basic social resources.
The legal status of refugees in India is governed mainly by the Foreigners Act 1946 and the Citizenship Act 1955. These Acts do not distinguish refugees fleeing persecution from other foreigners; they apply to all non-citizens equally. Under the Acts it is a criminal offence to be without valid travel or residence documents. These provisions render refugees liable to deportation and detention.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is based in New Delhi. Once recognized, Afghan, Burmese, Palestinian and Somali refugees receive protection from the UNHCR. Many refugees receive a small monthly subsistence allowance and all have access to the services provided by the UNHCR’s implementing partners in Delhi: the YMCA, Don Bosco and the Socio-Legal Centre (SLIC).
The YMCA helps refugees to find accommodation and provides access to education for children and young adults in government schools through the provision of an education allowance. Don Bosco provides psychosocial support and vocational training such as English language classes and computer courses. It also funds other vocational courses such as beautician training and driving lessons. The support of these organizations is vital, providing a degree of support to the refugee community. In addition to these initiatives, SLIC provides legal aid, legal...