Q) India lacks specific legislation to address the problem of refugees, in spite of their increasing inflow. Discuss.

Why this Question:

Important part of GS paper- II.

Key Demand of the Question:

Current laws dealing with refugees in India, limitations related to them and measures to reform them.


Discuss- back up the answer by carefully selected evidence to make a case for and against an argument, or point out the advantages and disadvantages of the given context and finally arrive at a conclusion.


Give an introduction about the inflow of refugees in India from the neighbouring countries. 


In the first part, categorically mention the current laws in India dealing with refugees and their provisions.

In the next part, explain the limitations of these laws and measures that should be adopted. 


Conclude by associating the plight of refugees in the larger human rights concern.  

Model Answer

The UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugee, 1951 defines refugee as A person who is outside his/her country of nationality or habitual residence; fears persecution because of his/her race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion; and is unable or unwilling to avail himself/herself of the protection of that country, or to return there, for fear of persecution.

The Constitution of India provides for single citizenship for the entire country. Since, international relations is a subject of the Union List, the laws relating to refugees are framed by the Union government. 

India’s Policy on Refugees 

  1. Non Refoulement- Though India is non signatory to the UN Refugee Convention, 1951, it follows the principle of non-refoulement whenever helpless asylum seekers have knocked on its doors.
  2. Internal Matter- India is a non signatory to The 1967 Protocol that requires the signatory nation to accord a minimum standard of hospitality and housing towards those it accepts as refugees and has always held that it is an internal matter for India. 
  3. The Foreigners Act, 1946 and the Registration of Foreigners Act, 1939 currently govern the entry and exit of all refugees, treating them as foreigners without due consideration of their special circumstances.
  4. Legal Provisions- India provides citizenship to many under special circumstances under some legal provisions like the NRC Assam, Citizenship Amendment Act, 1955 and 2019. 
  5. Role of judiciary- Refugees have been accorded constitutional protection by the judiciary in the National Human Rights Commission vs State of Arunachal Pradesh, 1996. The judiciary has also asserted that the fundamental rights of equality (Art 14) and life and personal liberty (Art 21) extend to the refugees too.

Concerns related to Indian Refugee Policy 

  1. India does not have a well defined asylum policy till now. 
  2. The Foreigners Act, 1946, fails to address the peculiar problems faced by refugees as a class.
  3. The Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 has often been criticised of excluding a certain community 
  4. Lack of a well defined law leads to certain human rights violations that globally deteriorate India’s image.
  5. It makes the task of tracking the total number of refugees difficult. 
  6. An ad hoc policy often leads to differential treatment of refugees on the basis of their nationalities. 

Way Forward 

  1. India must keep continuing work with other neighbouring countries to better manage the refugee influx and limit the strain on national resources.
  2. India can sign and ratify the global conventions on refugees. 
  3. A proper policy is needed to balance the necessity of ensuring human rights and the concerns regarding national security.
  4. Making sure the availability of basic supplies like food and water and basic facilities like shelter, education, medical care and means of living.

Above all, we need a system that enables the management of refugees with greater transparency and accountability, replacing one that offers arbitrary decision-making related to a vulnerable, victimised population. Though the national security interests remain at the forefront but as a rising power with global aspirations, and with a long tradition in dealing with refugees, India is duty-bound.