Ideology-driven Refugee Policies

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Context: Over the past two decades, the world has witnessed a radical shift in public perceptions and political reactions to asylum seekers- defining the refugee policies of the country. Many countries have followed ideology-based refugee policies which decide inclusion of some and exclusion of others in the past.

Mains: GS IV-

  • Attitude: content, structure, function; its influence and relation with thought and behaviour; moral and political attitudes; social influence and persuasion.
  • Probity in Governance: Concept of public service; Philosophical basis of governance and probity; Information sharing and transparency in government, Right to Information, Codes of Ethics, Codes of Conduct, Citizen’s Charters.

As the number of asylum seekers has risen, governments of all political leanings have implemented policies designed to deter asylum seekers from entering their countries for the purpose of seeking legal protection as refugees.
The result has been an ongoing struggle to balance internal pressures for border control against international law, which aims to create a compassionate and humanitarian environment for individuals who find themselves unable to live safe, secure lives in their home countries 

There are lessons to be drawn from the experience of countries that had adopted similar policies before. 

Examples of Ideology-Based Refugee Policies:

  1. The best examples come from the US during the Cold War.
    • For nearly three decades, the Cold War shaped the very definition of a refugee in US law.
    • A refugee was defined as a person fleeing “from a communist-dominated country or area”.
    • The Cuban Revolution of 1959, when Fidel Castro’s guerrillas ousted the US-backed military dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, prompted a large-scale emigration of Cubans to the US.
    • The Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966 was adopted to give permanent resident status to Cubans who had lived in the US for a year even if a person had entered the country illegally.
    • Like India’s Citizenship Amendment Act, it put Cubans on a fast track to citizenship.
    • During a time when there was little public support for immigration, anti-communism provided the ideological rationale for these policies.
    • Cubans making an exit choice testified to the failures of communism and the moral superiority of capitalism and American democracy
    • Cold War ideologues expected Cuban exiles to become strategic assets for the US, that they would commit themselves to the task of overthrowing the Castro regime, and would one day return to Cuba.
  2. For a better understanding of ideology-based refugee policy, let's take Australia and Israel for example.
    • Both Israel and Australia have developed Western states and signatories to the Refugee Convention, they have a high proportion of immigrants, allow immigration and were founded by immigrants.
    • While Australia is an immigration society potentially offering integration to all nationalities and ethnicities, Israel is an immigration society based on ethnicity, which offers integration only to Jews.
  3. The United States’ refugee program once served as a global model of how a powerful country should support the world’s most vulnerable people.
    • But Republicans under Trump administration supported, America is now accepting fewer refugees than ever.
    • There are ideological differences between the Democrats and the Republicans on various matters including the refugees.
    • Republicans support the policies on tight border security and policies like 'America First'.
    • The U.S. administration hasn’t distinguished among asylum-seekers, refugees, and other migrants.
    • It conceives them all as a threat to or drain on American society and economy and has crafted policies that try to keep as many people out of the US as possible.


Addition Information:

Who is a Refugee?

The UN defines refugees as those individuals that have fled their own countries because of persecution, war or violence-

“A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Most likely, they cannot return home or are afraid to do so. War and ethnic, tribal and religious violence are leading causes of refugees fleeing their countries” 

Global Data on Refugees:

  • According to the UN, by the end of 2018, there were around 70.8 million people around the world who had left their home countries because of conflict and persecution.
  • Of these 70.8 million, roughly 30 million are refugees.
  • Globally, more two-thirds of all refugees come from five countries:
    1. Syria (6.7 million),
    2. Afghanistan (2.7 million),
    3. South Sudan (2.3 million),
    4. Myanmar (1.1 million), and
    5. Somalia (0.9 million).
  • Countries in the developed regions host 16 per cent of refugees
  • The largest host countries are:
    1. Turkey (3.7 million),
    2. Pakistan (1.4 million),
    3. Uganda (1.2 million),
    4. Sudan (1.1 million), and
    5. Germany (1.1 million).
  • In 2018, 13.6 million people were newly displaced due to conflict and or persecution.

Current refugee crises:

The website of the UNHCR has listed 12 emergency refugee situations that are unfolding currently. Among them:

  1. In Burundi in East Africa, a humanitarian crisis is unfolding.
    • Economic decline, an outbreak of disease, and food insecurity have led to displacements within and outside the country to neighbouring countries including Rwanda, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Tanzania.
    • The UN has put the total number of refugees from Burundi at roughly 3.43 lakh.
  2. An estimated 5.6 million people from Syria have left the country since 2011, seeking refuge in neighbouring Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan among other countries.
    • Turkey hosts the largest number of Syrian refugees at roughly 3.3 million.
    • According to UNHCR, the majority of the Syrians in neighbouring countries live in urban areas, while roughly 8 per cent live in refugee camps.
  3. In 2017, the Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar fled the country after violence broke out in the country’s Rakhine state.
    • An estimated 6.7 lakh crossed over to neighbouring Bangladesh, adding to the roughly 2.13 lakh Rohingya who had left Myanmar in previous years.
    • Over 5.89 lakh refugees have now settled in the Kutupalong-Balukhali Expansion Site in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district.

Other countries and regions facing a refugee situation include Europe, Yemen, Central America, Africa, South Sudan, Venezuela, DR Congo, and Nigeria.

1951 Refugee Convention:

  • The Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, also known as the 1951 Refugee Convention, is a United Nations multilateral treaty that defines who a refugee is.
  • It also sets out the rights of individuals who are granted asylum and the responsibilities of nations that grant asylum.
  • Ratified​ by 145 State parties, it defines the term ‘refugee’ and outlines the rights of the displaced, as well as the legal obligations of States to protect them.
  • The core principle is non-refoulement, which asserts that a refugee should not be returned to a country where they face serious threats to their life or freedom.
  • This is now considered a rule of customary international law. 

The refugee situation in India:

  • India does not have a separate statute for refugees, and until now has been dealing with refugees on a case-by-case basis.
  • India is not a signatory to the 1951 Convention on Refugees or the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees.
  • In 2011, the Union government circulated to all states and Union Territories a Standard Operating Procedure to deal with foreign nationals who claimed to be refugees.
  • In late 2011, the Rohingya started to arrive in India’s Northeast following stepped-up persecution by the Myanmarese armed forces.
  • According to the Home Ministry, there are roughly 14,000 Rohingya refugees in India who are registered with the UNHCR, and there are estimated to be 40,000 Rohingya living in India illegally.
  • According to the Bureau of Immigration Data, India sent back 330 Pakistanis and 1,770 Bangladeshis between 2015 and 2018.
  • Earlier this year, the Home Ministry informed Rajya Sabha that India had deported 22 Myanmar nationals, including Rohingya, since 2017.

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