Workshop on Prevention and Response to Detention of Asylum seekers, Refugees and Stateless Person

India is a host to diverse groups of refugees from the very beginning but India is not a signatory to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol. India has welcomed refugees at different time like Chakmas in 1964 just before the partition of the Bangladesh-Pakistan. India has recognized two communities as refugees i.e. Tibetans and Sri-Lankans. 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 The outdated Foreigners Act poses a severe challenge to the rights of refugees in India as it does not distinguish between refugees fleeing persecution from illegal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 West Bengal and in recent years there have been a huge number of cases where they are detained and charged under the provisions of the Foreigners Act. There is unawareness about the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and its operation among the authorities and lawyers. 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. The local lawyers, administration and the judiciary are not sensitized about the issue and many Rohingya are detained even after the completion of their sentences. The administration fails to deport them as State refuses to acknowledge them as their citizen.

In this backdrop, a Workshop was organized on 12th December 2015 at Balurghat, West Bengal by Socio-Legal Information Centre (SLIC). The aim of the workshop was (a) to introduce 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 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 workshop was also to promote information sharing, data collection, reporting, securing access to and monitoring places of detention issue.

Lawyers from different District Courts, Students and HRLN Lawyers were present for the workshop. The total number of participants were thirty-four