‘NHRC should revise draft model laws on asylum and refugees’

Many participants of a discussion raise issue of India not having specific law for refugees and asylum-seekers, according to minutes of meeting

February 17, 2022 09:03 pm | Updated 09:03 pm IST - NEW DELHI:

Picture used for representational purposes only. File

Picture used for representational purposes only. File | Photo Credit: PTI

Model laws on asylum and refugees that were drafted by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) decades ago but not implemented by the government could be revised by an expert committee, according to Commission member Justice M.M. Kumar’s suggestion at a recent meeting.

The NHRC held a discussion on “protection of the basic human rights of refugees and asylum seekers in India” on January 20 and many participants raised the issue of India not having a specific law for refugees and asylum-seekers, according to the minutes of the meeting that were published on Thursday.

Though India has not signed the United Nations Refugee Convention, 1951, Justice Kumar said the refugees and asylum seekers were entitled to the rights in Articles 14, 20 and 21 of the Constitution. He highlighted the lack of a specific legislation governing refugees and asylum seekers.

Roshni Shanker, executive director of Migration and Asylum Project, spoke of the NHRC’s contribution in drafting a domestic asylum law and a model law for refugees in the “nineties”, the minutes of the meeting said. She suggested the drafts needed to be updated and converted into laws.

‘Appropriate follow-up measures’

In his concluding remarks, Justice Kumar “highlighted the need to update the two old NHRC documents regarding the domestic asylum laws and model law for refugees. He suggested to constitute a panel/committee of scholars and domain experts to update these draft laws,” the minutes stated. He also stated that if such laws were enacted, it would give legal sanctity and uniformity, ensuring the protection of human rights. There was lack of clarity for law enforcement agencies as well, he noted. Justice Kumar said the “Commission will take appropriate follow-up measures to implement these suggestions”, the minutes clarified.

During the discussion, which was attended by government officials, human rights defenders and United Nations officials, Law and Justice Ministry joint secretary and legal advisor Anju Rathi Rana said there were mechanisms in place to deal with refugees and the lack of specific law did not mean that there was no assistance provided to them. While she said India needed a national law on refugees, she pointed out that the government had to see all consequences - whether such law could be “misused by anti-nationals, terrorists and criminal elements” and that it would “cause a financial burden on the country”, the minutes said.

According to an NHRC source, the commission would deliberate on the suggestions that came out of the discussion, including the formation of a committee to revise the draft laws that can be recommendations to the government.

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