Human Rights Law Network

Refugee Rights

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Despite the fact that India is a host to diverse groups of refugees, the country has no specific laws or cohesive policy for refugees. India is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention nor to its 1967 Protocol on the Status of Refugees. Therefore, the protection of refugees is confined to ad-hoc measures taken by the Government of India, leaving refugees with little protection for their civil and political rights and virtually no legal provisions for their safety and welfare. Against this backdrop, the Refugee Rights Initiative at HRLN works for the protection of the rights of refugees and to improve their situation in India with a mission to assist asylum seekers, refugees and other displaced populations in realizing their basic human rights and accessing the justice system.

What We Do?

The Refugee Rights Initiative assists refugees in securing their civil and political rights by helping them acquire Indian citizenship, from which further economic and other rights follow. Our team has worked with people from multiple nationalities, including but not limited to refugees from Tibet, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Palastine, Iran, Iraq, Burma, Laos, Liberia, Kazakhstan, Sierra Leone, Eritrea, China, and Afghanistan. We have distinguished ourselves as being one of the very few groups to assist refugees and asylum seekers by way of counseling, legal aid, training and a sensitisation programme As an implementing partner of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, we provide assistance on a range of services for refugees. For example, registration of the new arrival and giving orientation to the asylum seekers, refugee certificate issued by UNHCR has to be renewed every 2 years. At this time, the entire refugee family meets with our social workers for a current refugee reassessment status, which includes legal/ protection, socio-economic, medical/psychological, educational/ vocational components, as well as ample time to air grievances. These activities are combined with efforts to identify durable solutions for the mandate refugees, which include voluntary repatriation, naturalization, and third-country resettlement. HRLN also facilitates applications for Indian citizenship on behalf of mandate refugees eligible and also interested in applying for naturalization in India. We litigate for safe asylum and the protection of human rights of refugees in the country by providing free legal aid to refugees and asylum seekers, including support in cases to secure residence permits, to stop refoulment, for refugees arrested or facing deportation, for the registration of complaints by the refugees at police stations, and for refugees in crisis situations. Along with the Women's Justice Initiative at HRLN, we represent women refugees in matrimonial cases, including for the custody of children. In cases where refugees face problems within the community or with the police, our team provides assistance through protective interventions with the local and refugee community and the local police. We also make interventions on behalf of refugees before various administrative bodies.

The Initiative undertakes crisis-response missions, investigation, monitoring, and fact-finding visits, such as a mission undertaken in Mizoram to uncover the mass-migration of Chin refugees from Myanmar. Through its interventions and consultations we work to bridge the gap between displaced communities and policy makers. We conduct training programmes for the general public, legal practitioners, law students, activists, social workers, and the police to sensitize them on how to use the existing laws for refugee protection.

Issues Of Concern

  • Naturalization
  • Renewal of refugee certificates
  • Registration of new-arrival refugees
  • Residence permits
  • Asylum applications
  • Deportations
  • Mass migrations
  • Ethnic/ racial discrimination against refugees

Major Impacts

The Indian government had undertaken a brutal deportation process of many poor and illiterate Bengali speaking Indians, whom they presumed were Bangladeshis. Members of one family were forcibly separated, jailed without notices, denied legal aid, handcuffed to train compartments and deported to Bangladesh. The Refugee Rights initiative handled a number of cases on behalf of these families and obtained stay orders in a number of cases. In 1999, in one of the first cases of its kind, upon our intervention the Bombay High Court temporarily restrained the deportation of Iraqi nationals and the court allowed the UNHCR to meet with persons claiming asylum until their applications for asylum were decided upon. In 2004, following the arrest of a number Burmese protestors, our lawyers represented them and secured their release. In yet another case where two Burmese students had fled from Myanmar and were at risk of being deported from India, the court recognized and established a non-citizen’s right to life and the right not to be deported when fearing persecution in their country. The petitioners were finally allowed to go to Sweden with the help of the UNHCR. (See: BA Aung Vs. Union of India)As an implementing partner with UNHCR, HRLN is primarily responsible for providing legal assistance to all recognized Burmese refugees in India.

The Initiative has established a new sub-center in Vikaspuri, to assist refugees in acquiring Indian citizenship. This has resulted in 648 refugees already attaining Indian citizenship and the acceptance of over 250 applications by the ministry of home affairs for naturalization. Over the years, HRLN has assisted over 5000 refugees in certificate renewal, which automatically ensures that they get their residence permit renewed or extended. This is a particularly important milestone as it issues forth otherwise unattainable government assistance including financial and psycho-social support, education, vocational training and employment assistance. Additionally the permit provides access to durable solutions, including resettlement, local integration, and voluntary repatriation.


Watch Nowhere to Run



Saud Tahir, Director, Refugee Rights Initiative
Tel:+91 11 24379855/ 24374501
Fax: +91 11 24374502

Vikash Puri:
Add:C-543, Vikas Puri ,New Delhi 1100 018,
Tel: +91 11 45705601/02/03

“Through its interventions and consultations, the Refugee Rights Initiative works to bridge the gap between displaced communities and policy-makers.”

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Human Rights Law Network (HRLN) is a division of the Socio-Legal Information Centre (SLIC). SLIC is a non-profit legal aid and educational organization, registered under the Registration of Societies Act, 1860, Indian Public Trust Act, 1950 and the Foreign Contributions (Regulation) Act, 1976.

HRLN is a division of the Socio-Legal Information Centre (SLIC). SLIC is a non-profit legal aid and educational organization, registered under the Registration of Societies Act, 1860, Indian Public Trust Act, 1950 and the Foreign Contributions (Regulation) Act, 1976.