Interventions: Human Rights Advocacy & Monitoring...

Refugees Crisis and Amendment in the Citizenship Law

7th October 2016, Lucknow
The Union Government has introduced the Bill in Lok Sabha on July 19, 2016. The Bill seeks to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955 which enacted to provide for the acquisition and determination of Indian citizenship. The Bill seeks to extend citizenship to person  belonging to minority communities, namely, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan who have either entered into India without valid travel documents or the validity of their documents have expired shall not be treated as illegal migrants. Citizenship laws have been a delicate subject in India ever since independence particularly after large scale movement of people during partition and the recurrent influx of refugees because of domestic instability in neighboring countries. The Citizenship Act of 1955 has been amended five times until now. Amending its sixth time, the Union Government introduced the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 in Lok Sabha on July 19, 2016. 
 
The Bill seeks to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955 which enacted to provide for the acquisition and determination of Indian citizenship. The Bill seeks to extend citizenship to person  belonging to minority communities, namely, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan who have either entered into India without valid travel documents or the validity of their documents have expired shall not be treated as illegal migrants. Hence, make them eligible to applying for Indian citizenship by the process of naturalization.  Under the existing provisions of the Act, persons belonging to the minority communities of aforesaid countries who have either entered into India without valid travel documents or the validity of their documents have expired are treated as illegal migrants. The Bill also seeks to reduce the aggregate period of residential qualification for the process of citizenship by naturalization of such persons from 11 years to six years. 
 
India with its history, culture, and traditions, has been an epitome of grace and generosity in the way it has opened its borders to all people who have come looking for safety and sanctuary. India is a home to diverse groups of refugees. India is a country having a long historical tradition of welcoming refugees from all over the world.  Despite this fact, India has not any central, uniform law dealing with refugees and treats different refugee groups differently denying them the right to be treated equally before the law. The Government of India determines the legal status of refugees by political and administrative decision rather than any codified model of conduct that governs the status of refugees in India.
 
While it has no formal asylum policy, the government decides on granting asylum on an ad hoc and case-to-case basis. India remains one of the few liberal democracies that have not signed, supported or ratified the international conventions that govern how nation should treat distressed people who are forced to leave their home under horrific conditions. India is neither party to the Refugee Convention1951 nor to its 1967 Protocol on the Status of Refugees. The convention is signed by 145 countries out of 193 countries around the globe and works for protection of rights of the displaced and ‘defining legal obligations of the states to protect them’. India has also not ratified the 1954 UN Convention on Statelessness and 1961 UN Convention on Reduction of Statelessness.
 
The refugee related issues have become more complex. The regional and international situations have changed quite substantially. The very definition of a refugee has been now subjected to a range of political interpretation with strong social cultural bias. India hosts the refugees but there is a definite symptom of aide and compassion fatigue. The absence of forthright and comprehensive legal regime has made the issues more fragile and management distinctly ad hoc.  No one wants to be refugee. Fate of the homeless and stateless people shouldn’t be deiced at the political goodwill.  India needs to review it ambivalent refugee law policy and evolve a regional approach and enact rules to protect persecuted refugees. There must be a firm, and uniform structure and policy to deal with refugees of all denomination. A domestic law is needed in India to ensure that all refugees are given basic protection. Without that, refugee rights are not rights in the real sense, they are simply privileges at the hands of the administration. The domestic law needs to in accordance and conformity with international conventions. Considering the conflict like situation all around the world, there is need of lot of preparedness to deal with refugees as influx of refugees are waiting at doorstep.