UNHCR Chief of Mission for India and Maldives, Oscar Mundia

In India, Refugees and Asylum Seekers Continue to Face Challenges Concerning Their Legal Recognition and Obtaining Government-Issued Documents’


Oscar MundiaHow many refugees, roughly, is the UNHCR catering to currently in India? From which countries are they displaced?

At the end of 2021, India was home to 214,000 forcibly displaced which includes 92,978 refugees from Sri Lanka and 72,312 Tibetans (according to Indian ministry of home affairs’ annual report for 2020-2021), populations which receive protection and assistance directly from the government. As of 30 April 2022, 48,665 refugees and asylum-seekers are registered with UNHCR in India. The most common countries of people seeking asylum in India are Myanmar, Afghanistan, and smaller numbers from Somalia, Yemen, Iran, Iraq, and Sudan among others.


What opportunities does the UNHCR provide to these displaced refugees? India is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention. How does this affect UNHCR’s functioning in India?

India continues its long tradition of hosting and assisting refugees. India is a signatory to various human rights instruments and has incorporated human rights protection in its Constitution and other legislation, Indian courts have repeatedly interpreted human rights protection principles to encompass refugees including Articles 14 and 21 of the Indian Constitution.

Refugees have access to government education and health care at par with local citizens. UNHCR in support of the efforts made by India continues to provide protection and assistance activities for urban-based refugees and asylum-seekers living which includes advocacy for access to rights, undertaking registration, refugee status determination, facilitating access to services like health, education, vaccination, supporting provision of emergency and life-saving health care (medicines, assistive devices, etc.), legal and social counselling, as well as psycho-social support. We also support access to education, including providing bridge and language classes, financial and food/non-food support to the most vulnerable refugees and asylum-seekers, as well as pursue durable solutions.


How can the functioning of the UNHCR be made smooth when it comes to settlement and repatriation of refugees?

Finding solutions that enable refugees to live their lives in dignity and peace is a core part of UNHCR’s work. In 2018, the Global Compact on Refugees (GCR) was adapted as a framework for more predictable and equitable responsibility-sharing, recognising that a sustainable solution to refugee situations cannot be achieved without international cooperation.

UNHCR along with other relevant stakeholders continue to seek and pursue opportunities to find solutions for refugees. Often solutions depend on external factors. UNHCR hopes that with the renewed commitment of states while adopting the GCR, more equitable solutions will be available for a larger number of refugees.

Solutions include voluntary repatriation, resettlement, and local integration. Voluntary repatriation may be one solution for refugees who have made an informed and voluntary decision to return home. We promote and facilitate voluntary repatriation through various means, including compiling information on their country, engaging in peace and reconciliation activities, promoting housing and property restitution, and providing return assistance to returnees.

For those who voluntarily cannot return to their country in safety and dignity, either because of continued conflict, wars, or persecution, resettlement in another country or local integration in the asylum country is one alternative. However, of the 20.4 million refugees of concern to UNHCR around the world, less than one per cent is submitted for resettlement. The number depends on the opportunities made available by the resettlement countries.


What should be done in case a nation deports persons recognized as refugees?

Governments normally guarantee the basic human rights and physical security of all persons on its territory. UNHCR’s main role in pursuing international protection is to ensure that states are aware of, and act on, their obligations to protect refugees and persons seeking asylum.

Countries may not forcibly return (refoulment) refugees to a territory where they face danger. UNHCR and partners advocate with the government to adhere to the principle of non–refoulment, on their responsibility under the International and domestic refugee protection regimes to not deport refugees and asylum-seekers in need of international protection.

UNHCR continues to advocate for access to territory, safe asylum, and access to basic rights to ensure that forcibly displaced populations can live in safety and dignity.


How closely does the UNHCR work with the government of India? Does this proximity with the government have any bearing on the functioning of this organisation within the country?

India has a long tradition of hosting varied groups of refugees. UNHCR continues to work closely with the Government of India to support the critical needs of the most vulnerable refugees registered with UNHCR. We also work with the Government on supporting the individual repatriation of Sri Lankan refugees who voluntarily would like to return home in safety and dignity.


With increasing conflicts around the world, and the number of refugees in the world constantly going up, what are the challenges faced by the UNHCR?

As the world grapples with more than 84 million forcibly displaced people globally, the challenges faced are preserving the asylum space, addressing protection concerns, meeting growing assistance needs, and finding solutions for protracted refugee situations.

In the past year alone, numerous emergencies in many countries have required UNHCR to step up our lifesaving response to the forcibly displaced.

In India, refugees and asylum seekers continue to face challenges concerning their legal recognition and obtaining government-issued documents. This often leads to difficulties in accessing basic services, including financial services. Finding solutions to protracted refugee situations remains the need of the hour.


Do we need a new international understanding on refugees?

The 1951 Refugee Convention definition of a refugee drafted 71 years ago still holds true to this day and has proved remarkably resilient in helping protect millions of people in all types of situations.

Over the years, there has been a steep rise in forced displacement and to further supplement this definition and the collective response, the Global Compact on Refugees was adopted in 2018 as a framework for more predictable and equitable responsibility-sharing, recognising that a sustainable solution to refugee situations cannot be achieved without international cooperation.


With a greater number of children born as refugees, how does the UNHCR world over ensure the well-being of these children?

Close to half of the world’s refugees are children. Many will spend their entire childhoods away from home, sometimes separated from their families. They may have witnessed or experienced violent acts and, in exile, are at risk of abuse, neglect, and violence. But children are incredibly resilient. By learning, playing, and exploring their skills, they can find ways to cope, drawing strength from their families and communities.

UNHCR works with authorities, other UN agencies, and NGO partners to assist, protect and find solutions for forcibly displaced children. We ensure that those who are unaccompanied or separated are cared for and have access to family tracing and reunification services, that new-borns are registered at birth and that children with disabilities are supported. Through psychosocial support activities and education, we help children rebuild their lives.


The majority of refugees are hosted in underdeveloped countries, while the developed world seems to shirk this responsibility. What is the UNHCR doing to correct this imbalance?

Following the adoption of the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants in 2016, UNHCR led extensive consultations with member states, international organizations, refugees, civil society, the private sector, and experts. The idea was to draw lessons from the application of the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework that was an integral part of the New York Declaration. This two-year process culminated in the affirmation by the UN Member States of the Global Compact on Refugees in December 2018.

The Global Compact on Refugees (GCR) is a framework for more predictable and equitable responsibility-sharing, recognizing that a sustainable solution to refugee situations cannot be achieved without international cooperation. It provides a blueprint for governments, international organizations, and other stakeholders to ensure that host communities get the support they need and that refugees can lead productive lives.


How much do matters of race and religion impact upon UNHCR’s ability to settle the refugees?

UNHCR ensures that there shall be no discrimination on the grounds of race, colour, sex, language, religion, or ethnicity to settle refugees. UNHCR has referral mechanisms in place to ensure that individuals at heightened risk and with vulnerabilities are prioritized during registration, refugee status determination and gain access to services.




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