Refugee Law: The Indian Penal Code Perspective
History of the Indian refugees
India is one of the few countries to feel the refugee status in the last
half-century. Indian history is evident in the large-scale immigration of people
from various countries. These migrations had taken place in 2 ways: “Hindukush
Mountains in the West and the Patkoi range in the East”.
After Independence, the first twenty-five years of India was spent on acquiring
the responsibility of 20 million refugees. This was due to the separation of
India and Pakistan. As a result, India had to brave a task by granting relief to
the relocated persons from West Pakistan. “At the initial stage, 160 relief
camps were established and the total expenditure incurred was Rs. 60 crores
approximately.” There were many steps taken by the government of India to
succeed with the refugee problem.
The most significant step that had been passed by the government was the
Rehabilitation Financial Administration Act, 1948. The utmost question arises in
this Act when the definition of displaced person was granted that what will be
the legal status of these removed persons? The term refugee was defined in the
1951 convention relating to the status of refugees. After observing the
situations of displaced persons from India to Pakistan and vice versa, it was
clear that the condition of displaced person was not different from that of
India had to face another refugee influx in 1959 when Dalai Lama along with his
followers fled and reached India. The government of India presented Dalai Lama
and his followers a political shelter. Another refugee influx which our country
had to face was in 1971 when 10 million refugees fled from East Pakistan to
India. For this asylum, India was bound by the humanitarian obligation to give
shelter to the refugees.
After some gap, India was again affected by the influx of refugees from Sri
Lanka and Bangladesh in 1983 and 1986. As per the World Refugee Report, India
hosted around 400,000 refugees along with at least 2,000,000 refugees and some
237,000 internally displaced persons.
The following two cases will explain the position of law as well as the
procedure that is followed in two specific circumstances. Mehmud Ghazaleh, an
Iranian refugee registered with UNHCR, was arrested while illegally exiting
India for Nepal via the Sonauli border in District Maharajgunj, U.P. The refugee
was going on forged & fabricated travel documents. He was arrested by the border
officials who prima facie found that his travel documents were produced.
They handed the refugee over to the local police station at Sonauli for
investigation and registration of FIR u/s 419/420/468/471 IPC read with Sec 3/6
of the Passport Act and Sec.14 Foreigners Act. He was finally interned at the
Gorakhpur district jail. In another case, two Afghan refugees, Shah Ghazai and
his minor son Assadullah were arrested by the authorities at the Attari border
at Amritsar, Punjab while trying to illegally exit India for Afghanistan via
Pakistan. They were returned over to the local police in Gharinda, district
Amritsar for examination and registration of FIR and were subsequently interned
at the Amritsar Central Jail.
NGOs and Human Rights activists look for examples and often occur through legal
action in courts, in cases of presumed illegal arrest of refugees, individually
in cases where it is alleged that formal FIR is not written by the concerned law
enforcing authorities even after such detention.
It is sometimes claimed that such a condition obtains in cases where the refugee
is suspected to be a spy or a subversive opening the Indian borders with the
leisurely and mala-fide intent to cause harm to the stability and honour of the
country or a person presumed to be engaged in trans-border crime like stealing
In such cases accusations are made that the refugee’s arrest would not be
recorded until the courts are in a position to know the credentials of the
individual(s) concerned. The following case is illustrative of the above, even
though the details pertaining to it may be somewhat different.
An Iranian refugee, Syed Ata Mohamadi, recognised by UNHCR, was arrested at the
Bombay International airport en route to Canada. He was arrested at the entrance
lounge of the airport for travelling on an assumed name, on a false passport.
His detention continued over a month, he was published only on the attack of the
Bombay High Court.
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