Lawyers Training on Legal Protection for Asylum Seekers and Refugees in India
Despite the fact that India is a host to diverse groups of refugees, India is not a signatory to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol. The protection of refugees is confined to ad-hoc measures taken by the Government of India, leaving refugees with little protection for their basic human rights and virtually no legal provisions for their safety and welfare. In the absence of a central enactment on refugee, the Foreigners Act, 1946 governs the entry, stay and exit of foreigners in India. The outdated Foreigners Act poses a severe challenge to the rights of refugees in India as it does not distinguish between refugees fleeing persecution from illegal immigrants. Under such laws it is a criminal offence for a non-citizen to be in India without valid travel or residence documents. Consequently, refugees suffer deportation and detention.
There is a big concentration of Rohingya population in Jammu and in recent years there have instances of eight Rohingya asylum seekers being arrested and subjected to criminal proceedings under Foreigners Act. There is unawareness about the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and its operation among the authorities and lawyers in Jammu. In these particular cases, the relatives of the detainees somehow managed to hire private lawyers who defended the cases. During the trail process, the detainees were allowed to have access to UNHCR office in Delhi for registration process and granted refugee status subsequently. However, in general, many PoCs in detention especially in West Bengal have no access to legal remedies or access to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for protection. Asylum seekers are thus being deprived of access to UNHCR to claim refugee status.
In this backdrop, a Lawyers Training was organized on 22 November 2015 at Jammu by Socio-Legal Information Centre (SLIC) with the assistance of UNHCR. The aim of the training were (a) to introduce UNHCR and legal partners on its work on refugees and asylum seeker (b) to disseminate information on refugees situation in India (c) to aware on legal challenges faced to address PoCs detention cases with specific reference to Jammu cases (d) to aware on Legal Protection for asylum seekers and refugees and its challenges laws/Jurisprudence/International Law/Administrative Policies (e) to foster partnerships with lawyers for free legal aid services to PoCs on voluntary basis. The training was also to promote information sharing, data collection, reporting, securing access to and monitoring places of detention issue in Jammu.
Lawyers from Jammu District and Session including High Court lawyers and HRLN Lawyers from Srinagar were present for the training. Apart from SLIC and UNHCR, DAJI also participated in the training. The total participants were eighteen.