World Refugee Day
A refugee is someone who fled his or her home and country owing to “a well-founded fear of persecution because of his/her race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion”, according to the United Nations 1951 Refugee Convention.
It is a heart-breaking situation, when overnight people become homeless and stateless, thrown into an uncertain future. Often natural disasters like cyclones, floods, and earthquakes force people to leave their homes.
World Refugee Day is observed every year on June 20 by the United Nations to honour the courage of refugees around the world who have been forced outside of their homes.
According to the UN, 20 people leave their homes every minute to escape persecution, terror, and war. Refugees have the right to work, education, and housing, among several other rights.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 82.4 million people worldwide were forcibly displaced by the end of 2020 as a result of persecution, conflict, violence, human rights violations, or events seriously disturbing public order.
According to the latest UNHCR report on forced displacement, Turkey currently hosts 3.6 million refugees, the largest by a single country, followed by Columbia that shelters 1.8 million people, including people who fled Venezuela in the last few years.
2020 also saw over 160 countries closing their borders to prevent the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. 99 of them did not allow entry to any refugees. The number of refugees resettled last year was 34,400 only.
In February, this year, UNHCR found around 878,000 Rohingya refugees living in camps with inadequate spaces, after the Myanmar coup displaced them. 5.7 million Palestinians got displaced as per the 2020 report, due to the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict.
History of World Refugee Day
World Refugee Day was celebrated for the first time on June 20, 2001, on the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Refugee Convention. It was earlier known as Africa Refugee Day. The United Nations General Assembly, in December 2000, designated it as an international day.
Significance of the Day
The day is observed around the world to draw attention to the plight of refugees and mobilize political will and resources to urgently help the people rebuild their lives.
World Refugee Day is observed to respect and honor refugees' courage and resilience across the world.
The unprecedented and prolonged coronavirus pandemic has exposed the vulnerability of refugees who hardly have any resources to fight the health and economic crisis.
The enormity of the migrant crisis as well has been exposed by the pandemic like never before.
World Refugee Day is utilized to build up public awareness and support for the human rights of refugees.
The day aims to build understanding and empathy for refugees building their life in countries new to them.
The UN also recognizes host communities that welcome refugees and offer them shelter and assistance, in the true spirit of compassion, humanity and shared values.
1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol
Refugees are among the most vulnerable people in the world. The 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol help protect them. They are the only global legal instruments explicitly covering the most important aspects of a refugee’s life.
The 1951 Convention contains a number of rights and also highlights the obligations of refugees towards their host country. The cornerstone of the 1951 Convention is the principle of non-refoulment. According to this principle, a refugee should not be returned to a country where he or she faces serious threats to his or her life or freedom. This protection may not be claimed by refugees who are reasonably regarded as a danger to the security of the country, or having been convicted of a particularly serious crime, are considered a danger to the community.
The rights contained in the 1951 Convention include:
The right not to be expelled, except under certain, strictly defined conditions;
The right not to be punished for illegal entry into the territory of a contracting State;
The right to work;
The right to housing;
The right to education;
The right to public relief and assistance;
The right to freedom of religion;
The right to access the courts;
The right to freedom of movement within the territory;
The right to be issued identity and travel documents.
World Refugee Day theme
'No one is safe till everyone is safe' is the tagline or slogan for fighting the pandemic. This year's World Refugee Day theme - together we heal, learn and shine - aims at people belonging to all faiths, all over the world, working together to welcome stateless persons, displaced people, refugees, and others who have been forced to flee their homes. Whether it is education, arts, music, or sports - doing activities together helps boost the confidence of vulnerable people, according to the UN Refugee Agency. Doing things together also helps people learn new skills.
India's Refugee Policy
India lacks specific legislation to address the problem of refugees, in spite of their increasing inflow.
The Foreigners Act, 1946, fails to address the peculiar problems faced by refugees as a class. It also gives unbridled power to the Central government to deport any foreign citizen.
The Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 (CAA) strikingly excludes Muslims from its purview and seeks to provide citizenship only to Hindu, Christian, Jain, Parsi, Sikh, and Buddhist immigrants persecuted in Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.
India is not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, the key legal documents pertaining to refugee protection.
In spite of not being a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, India has had a stellar record on the issue of refugee protection.
India has a moral tradition for assimilating foreign people and culture.
The constitution of India also respects the life, liberty, and dignity of human beings.
The Supreme Court in the National Human Rights Commission vs. State of Arunachal Pradesh (1996) held that “while all rights are available to citizens, persons including foreign citizens are entitled to the right to equality and the right to life, among others.”