South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights


Title: Migrants, Refugees and the Stateless in South Asia

Author: Partha S. Ghosh

Publisher: SAGE

Price: Rs. 995

The book Migrants, Refugees and the Stateless in South Asia addresses the important issue of migrants, refugees and stateless people. The author Partha Ghosh has done meticulous research on the complex issue.  It is not a recent phenomenon. It is happening in the South Asia for years. It is estimated that so far around 50 million South Asians have crossed borders intra-regionally for either permanent or semi-permanent settlement in their new abodes.

Out of refugees, migrants and stateless people only refugees are a legal category and that too in those countries which have signed the international refugee convention. Unfortunately, in South Asia, only Afghanistan has signed the international refugee covenants of 1951 and 1967. It is often difficult to distinguish between migrants, refugees, and stateless people.

In 1954, the term ‘stateless person’ was first defined. The stateless person is defined as ‘a person who is not considered as a national by any state under the operation of its law’ in a convention on September 28, 1954, relating to the status of stateless persons. Migration can be internal or international. Internal migration is a change in the place of residence from one administrative boundary to another within the same country. International migration is a move over a national boundary.

“The Indian statutory framework does not recognize refugees as a separate category of people who deserve separate treatment. But although the refugees are treated in an ad hoc basis and usually on par with foreigners and illegal migrants or entrants, certain laws and procedures are in place which governs the Indian state’s response to the refugee question,” writes Ghosh.

Migration is also some time connected with racial, ethnic discrimination. People do take shelter, many times, because of religious persecutions. They also come with their earlier political, religious orientation. Many times they come with the hawkish ideology. If they were persecuted for religious reasons then they easily become pawn in the hands of extreme elements where they have taken shelter.

The author says,” Even without any refugee specific legal regime, India and Pakistan have handled millions of refugees starting with the arrival of massive number of refugees during and after the partition.” India is getting refugees regularly from Afghanistan, Myanmar and Bangladesh. Pakistan is getting refugees from Afghanistan in big number. At the same time, many of them are also returning back to Afghanistan. Bangladesh is refugee generating as well as receiving country. Chakma and Hindu community are leaving Bangladesh for India in big numbers. At the same, Bangladesh is receiving Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. Now, Bangladesh has stopped receiving them. Rohingya community is primarily based in Rakhine province of Myanmar. They are leaving Myanmar primarily because of persecution.

Sir Cyril Radcliffe was assigned the task of dividing India. He did his job. Before he left India he burnt all his notes and never thereafter did he write anything about his experience in India.

Maldives is a unique country of South Asia with a population of little over three lakh. Strict Sunni Muslim order does not permit non-Sunni to settle in the country, not even as a spouse of its citizens. They have thousands of Bangladeshi workers. Sinhala-Tamil conflict led exodus of thousands of Tamils to India’s Tamil Nadu.  Nepal has seven camps of Lhotshampa (Nepali ethnic origin) refugees from Bhutan numbering around 1.25 lakh.

Migration is always not welcomed. Migrant workers are always cheap labourers as they have to survive. Many times it changes the politics of the region where they settle. The Assam agitation of the early eighties was against foreigners (read Bangladesh) settling in Assam. In August 1985, the Assam Accord was signed between the Indian government and All Assam Students’ Union (AASU). The issue of infiltration of Chakma became a major issue in Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh in nineties. Sri Lankan Tamil refugees continued to influence Tamil Nadu’s politics till Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was defeated in 2009.

Muslims from East Punjab migrated to West Punjab and Muslims from UP and Central India settled down in Pakistan’s Sindh province. They are known as Mohajirs. They were important players in the Muslim League. But, over the years they were sidelined. Ahmediya were in the forefront in demanding Pakistan. But, they lost importance and subsequently were declared non-Muslim in 1974. Similarly, Biharis who migrated to then East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) and later on could not migrate to Pakistan are marginalized. They were viewed as ‘collaborators’ with the Pakistan Army and Razakars against the liberation war. Even today, couples of lakh Urdu speaking Biharis in Bangladesh are waiting to go to Pakistan and settle down.

Unlike other refugees, the Tibetans refugees need to be seen differently. They started coming to India from early 1950s. India’s then PM Jawaharlal Nehru welcomed Dalai Lama and his thousands of colleagues in 1959 on the humanitarian ground and allow them to settle down. But, at the same time India did not took an anti-Chinese position. It was a mixture of humanitarian attitude and diplomacy. The book gives complete picture of the status of refugees and migrants in South Asia.


Updated On: Sep 03, 2017