Missing Boundaries: Refugees, Migrants, Stateless and Internally Displaced Persons in South Asia
R. Ramasubramanian ·       

?There is no greater sorrow on earth than the loss of one?s native land? says Euripides. The word refugee is evocative, even powerful. There are refugees fleeing hunger, run for their lives or for their freedom from their own governments, from natural disaster or from man?s inhumanity to man. Today, there are millions of such people, from a variety of national backgrounds, on all populated continents. The South Asian region hosts the largest number of refugees on the globe. One in every forty citizens in the world is a refugee or an internally displaced person (IDP) or an economic migrant. Historically, South Asia has witnessed substantial intra-regional movement and dislocation of regional groups fleeing ethnic or religious persecution and political instability. The empirical experience of the region shows countries can be both refugee generating and refugee hosting. Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Nepal are countries that receive refugees, while Bhutan and Sri Lanka have generated refugees. In all countries of the region, political violence and developmental policies have created huge numbers of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and ?stateless? persons. These issues are wrapped up in Missing boundaries ? Refugees, Migrants, Stateless and Internally Displaced Persons in South Asia, edited by PR Chari et al.


A comprehensive attempt focusing on the various facets of movements in the subcontinent is picturesquely presented in this collection, which merited publication due to the successful discussions that took place in a two-day conference organized by the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS). The book traverses in great detail the reasons for the generation of forced movements in South Asia: break down of colonial rule leading to adverse repercussions; problems of nation and state building resulted in political, ethnic, religious and economic oppression; and, political and economic development in the neighbouring regions as a ?pull factor.? However it is important to note that, for reasons such as: physical proximity, ethnic linkages, cultural and linguistic linkages, the exodus of refuges have been absorbed with in the region itself.


This interesting phenomenon fetches many questions as to how will the South Asian states deal with the refugees or forms of displacement in the absence of any national legislation in this regard. Also the question of credible accommodation springs out, because none of these states have signed any of the international conventions or treaties regarding refugees. The question of security threat posed by the refugees in terms of resources, economy and environment and how effectively can the states manage these threats are discussed. The book covers the major population displacements in South Asia such as Bhutanese, Burmese, Bangladeshi migrants, Bihari Muslims and Sri Lanka; the threat posed by them to the country of asylum and the role of governmental, non-governmental and inter-governmental organisations in protecting the refugees.


PR Chari in the introductory chapter ?Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons in South Asia: An Overview? briefly reviews the twelve important population movements in the region since the partition of the subcontinent in 1947. His elaboration on the security dimensions of population displacement in South Asia such as disruption of the domestic policy of the host state, linkage with the criminal groups and possible frictions between the country of origin and asylum is informative. His view on adopting a holistic approach to this issue by securing the cooperation of international and regional organisations is not fruitful especially with regard to SAARC. His suggestion for regulating a body of law for the rights of the refugees is commendable though the policy makers would not formulate it.


As a continuum to the discussion of security aspects, Suba Chandran in his article ?Refugees in South Asia: Security Threat or a Security Tool?? analyses in a lucid manner whether these uprooted persons are really a security threat. But he does not furnish inputs as to how they are made as security tools by the states in order to achieve their political gains. Hadn?t the Sri Lankan government granted sizeable refugees citizenship, just to prevent Indian intervention in the island? Hadn?t the intervention of India in East Pakistan to liberate Bangladesh in the pretext of exodus of refugees in the country call for a security tool? However his sizing of the threat perception based on three considerations vis-�-vis Social security in terms of drug addiction, trafficking and smuggling; Economic security in terms of providing food, shelter and other aids and Political security in terms of local integration and criticism of political opponents, has certainly added to the value of this collection.


Why should we bother about the security threats? Is there any real threat posed by the refugees and IDPs to a state? How can a solution be attained to solve these problems? These questions find their answer in the next few chapters.


V. Suryanarayanan in his chef d'oeuvre article on ?Humanitarian concerns and Security Needs: Sri Lankan Refugees in Tamil Nadu? argues for a National Refugee Law to be formulated by the South Asian states. He strictly asserts for a bilateral perspective between India and Sri Lanka. If the situation in the country of origin gets normalised then the refugees have to return to their homeland, which is true when substantial number of refugees return through voluntary repatriation. Initially the author categorizes the Sri Lankan Tamils in India into four divisions ? refugees in camps, outside the camps, Sri Lankan nationals and Tamil militants in the camp and he traces the flow of refugees to India as a result of ethnic strife in Sri Lanka.


?Refugees in their own land? is construed by Renuka Senanayake in her article on ?Managing the Internally Displaced in Sri Lanka?. She examines the management of IDPs in Sri Lanka by the state and other key actors for protection and providing facilities for their return, resettlement and reintegration. The author?s cogitation that the situation got aggravated only when the Sinhalese soldiers were killed by LTTE needs to be investigated further. Her hopes for a durable solution that would address the problem of infrastructure development and adopting policies in relation to IDPs and following the internationally accepted rules of war is a positive astuteness.


Wasbir Hussain recapitulates the Bangladeshi Migrants in India in his paper on ?Bangladeshi Migrants in India: Towards a Practical Solution ? A view from the NorthEastern Frontier.? The demographic complexion in Assam and Tripura has changed drastically due to the trans-border migration. This had aroused serious emotional uprisings among the indigenous Assamese and Tripura people leading to violence. The author?s support to Sanjoy Hazarika?s view of work permits or job cards to Bangladeshi?s has to be considered. His illustration of Indian government?s determination to erect fencing along the 3200 km long border to prevent the influx of Bangladesh migrants is informative, though this movement cannot be stopped. The conditional assimilation policy, which the author hopes would reduce the growing conflicts.


No love relationship can exist between the stateless Rohingyas and the state of Burma. Put differently, the relationship between the two represents coercion rather than consent is portrayed by CR Abrar in his paper ?Still Waiting for a Better Morrow: A Decade of Burmese Refugees in Bangladesh?. In the case of the Rohingyas, it is even more pathetic for their refuge across the border brought no change to their sufferings. Unwinding the decade long problem, the author discusses the role of UNHCR and other NGOs to bring back the normalcy. However the author fails to expose the smuggling of small arms and other exotic weapons, leave alone narcotics, due to the nexus between the Rohingyas and militants. Indeed nothing can be more ominous than the growth of a nexus between arms, drugs and frustrated groups. What is there to look for a better morrow then?


Leave alone Rohingyas, there are Bihari Muslims in Bangladesh where these excluded groups are to be ?repatriated? says Zarin Ahmed in her article on ?The Bihari Muslims of Bangladesh: In a State of Statelessness.? Pakistan was opposed to accepting the Biharis because they would disturb the already flammable ethnic balance in the province of Sind. The author suggests for joint Pakistan-Bangladesh talks and the need for a Model National Law on Refugees which would bring good life to these stranded Pakistanis. But the author fails to understand the fact that sizable numbers within the stateless population would actually prefer to remain stateless than be given a nationality not to their preference. The Bihari leaders encourage their followers to remain in Dhaka camps rather than seek reintegration with Bangladesh. The author portrays as though the Pakistanis are against the Biharis but that is not fully true. Pakistan views itself as having a humanitarian if not legal responsibility towards the Biharis. Demands by Pakistan?s internal constituency pressing for Bihari repatriation, particularly MQM party, in part shapes Pakistan?s continued engagement in the matter.


The regions of Nepal, Bhutan and North-East India are becoming ?melting point of ethnicity? says Tapan Kumar Bose in his article on ?Bhutan: Creating Statelessness- A recipe for Regional instability?. The Bhutanese refugee problem needs to be understood more as a case of ethnic cleansing and the creation of statelessness than as a refugee issue. If this is not going to be solved, the author cautions, there will be a possibility for armed insurgencies. In the Bhutanese case, the expulsion of the Nepalis was in part prompted y the government?s concern that the Indian government could use Nepali agitation and potential population growth to annex Bhutan as it did it with Sikkim.


All these indicate that the world is in turmoil and needs immediate humanitarian action. DR Karthikeyan in his paper ?Resolving the Refugee Problem: A Role for Human Rights Organisation? argues for the commendable efforts of human rights organisations to resolve the refugee problem. He argues that even in the absence of specific legislation, refugees are entitled to enjoy basic human rights protection. The role of the Judiciary and the NHRC in India has provided some hope for the refugees with regards to human rights protection. But the author fails to accept that what we have is a representation of a dialectic in the constitution of the state, that is state as usurper and state as salvation, without of course realizing that the former cancels the latter and vice versa. The NHRC is just a recommendatory body and cannot force the state to comply with humanitarian aspects when its security interests are at stake.


Following the same tone, T. Ananthachari argues for a National Refugee Law in his contribution ?Towards a National Refugee Law in India.? It is worthwhile to examine the manner in which ?refugees? have been handled so far in India. Given the security situation prevailing in the country, ?refugee problem? has come to be viewed in the light of national security considerations rather than in the light of its underlying humanitarian aspects. Therefore it is imperative to formulate ?refugee laws? that would cope up satisfactorily with the enormous refugee problems besetting the country. It is to be noted that the National Human Rights Commission is involved in the preparation of Draft Refugee Law.


Finally, the role of UNHCR in South Asia is dealt by Sumbul Rizvi in her paper ?Managing Refugees: The Role of UNHCR in South Asia.? According to the author, ?forced migration? in South Asia is a growing phenomenon emerging from political reasons, economic expediency and environmental degradation. The UNHCR?s first intervention in the Indian Subcontinent was during the Bangladesh refugee crisis, wherein the organization acted as the focal point for coordinating UN and other international humanitarian assistance. UNHCR has to be given high credits for its effective role in dealing with the Bhutanese refugees, Afghan refugees, Rohingya refugees, Sri Lankan IDPs in Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh refugees. Though Sri Lankan refugees and Tibetan refugees are taken care of by the Indian government, UNHCR facilitates by procedural formalities for repatriation. To this end, UNHCR conducts eligibility determination interviews and issues ?refugee? certificates to those who qualify as refugees.


The editors contend that refugee-generating situations in South Asia, instead of being resolved have persisted and even intensified over the last few years. Bilateral negotiations have not always been successful and drastic intervention strategies are seldom adopted with return of refugees as the only agenda. Throughout the book one can notice the suggestions and clear analysis on the part of the authors in explaining the hard realities of the refugees, IDPs, stateless and economic migrants in South Asia. But does this constitute refugees in all of South Asia? This compilation appears to be a piecemeal of few but major refugee movements in South Asia. What about Afghan and Tibetan refugees who constitute a major portion of population movements in India and Pakistan. The editorial team should also have attempted to address the movement of Chin refugees, Chakma refugees and Rhea refugees. This would have made the volume encyclopedic and rendered it a far-reaching document on population movements in South Asia.


When the nation?s borders are eroding slowly due to the advent of globalization, it is befitting to investigate the Missing Boundaries but in humanitarian sense.