Skip to main content

Why refugees do matter, should be made to feel welcome, protected, integrated

By Fr Cedric Prakash SJ*
On June 20 the United Nations observed yet another ‘World Refugee Day’. In a statement for the day the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said:
“We are marking this year’s World Refugee Day against a backdrop of a dramatic global crisis. Not only are record numbers of people forced to flee their homes, but the world is grappling with Covid-19, a disease that is still very much affecting us all. What started as a health crisis has expanded, and today many of the most vulnerable – refugees and the displaced amongst them – face a pandemic of poverty.
“Yet, throughout this challenging time, we have also seen a connectedness that transcends borders. Ordinary people have stepped up to help. Host communities – especially those in low- and middle-income countries where nearly 90 percent of the world’s refugees live – have continued to demonstrate a remarkable welcome”. Given the grim reality which most of the world (particularly the refugees and other displaced people) faces today, the theme this year 2020 very appropriately was ‘Every Action Counts.’ Grandi’s statement echoing the mandate of the UNHCR went on to state:
“On this World Refugee Day, I call for greater global solidarity and action to include and support refugees, internally displaced and stateless people as well as their hosts. Whoever you are. No matter where you come from. Every one of us can make a difference. Every action truly counts. The Covid-19 pandemic and the recent anti-racism protests have shown us how desperately we need to fight for a more inclusive and equal world.
“A world where no one is left behind. It has never been clearer that all of us have a role to play in order to bring about change. Everyone can make a difference. This is at the heart of UNHCR’s World Refugee Day campaign. This year, we aim to remind the world that everyone, including refugees, can contribute to society, and Every Action Counts in the effort to create a more just, inclusive, and equal world”.

For India, this theme is particularly significant because in the last few months the spotlight in the country has been on internally displaced and stateless people, besides of course refugees. The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) which was passed by both Houses of Parliament early in December 2019 is blatantly unconstitutional and patently discriminatory. It has come in for much criticism and plenty of protests from every quarter both from Indian and the world over.
The Human Rights Council of the United Nations in a statement said:
“The amended law would appear to undermine the commitment to equality before the law enshrined in India’s constitution and India’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, to which Indian is a State party, which prohibit discrimination based on racial, ethnic or religious grounds. Although India’s broader naturalization laws remain in place, these amendments will have a discriminatory effect on people’s access to nationality.” 
The UN Human Rights Council also wanted to be party in the petition before the Supreme Court of India. Several leading legal luminaries from all over the world, and even the Un Secretary -General have called for the immediate revocation of the CAA saying that it could render large number of people stateless!
The pandemic has also brought to focus the plight of the internally displaced people, particularly of the migrant workers. Ever since the lockdown was announced, with just about four hours’ notice on the night of March 24/25, a humanitarian crisis unprecedented in India’s modern history, has severely disrupted the lives of India’s migrant workers. 
Millions of migrants have found themselves stranded without food, cash, and shelter, trying to get home. They have been subjected to violation of their fundamental rights under Articles 14, 15, 19, and 21 and often to severe police harassment on interstate borders.
Many have reportedly died as a result of the lockdown, due to exhaustion en route home, starvation, suicides, police excesses, illnesses, and rail and road accidents. As per reliable sources, as many as 667 non-Covid deaths have occurred across the country; 205 of these have occurred among migrant workers en route on foot, and 114 due to starvation and financial distress. Meanwhile, the current response strategy with the provision of shramik trains, has been inadequate at best. Over 2,000 ‘shramik’ trains have reportedly carried over 300,000 migrant workers in the last week of May. 
This accounts for about 30% of the total population. Further, this does not include those who are en route and on foot, or those who are stranded in shelters or on interstate borders, or elsewhere. As of this moment, the government of India does not seem to have any estimates on the total number of people stranded and/or en route home across the country nationally as revealed in a recent RTI.
Rohingiyas at Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh
Their condition is still pathetic. In an extremely belated manner, the Supreme Court on 28 May finally gave a detailed interim order regarding the transportation of the migrants; (earlier two High Courts also highlighted the pathetic situation of the migrant workers).
The way India has been treating the tiny group of Rohingyas who have sought refuge in India in the wake of their persecution in Myanmar, is a textbook case of how inhospitable we have become as nation, which over the years has prided itself of having internalised that Sanskrit phrase from the Maha Upanishad, ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ ("the world is one family"). 
As many as 667 non-Covid deaths have occurred in India; 205 of these have occurred among migrant workers en route on foot, 114 due to starvation and financial distress
Today xenophobia, jingoism, false-nationalism and exclusivism seems to have become the order of the day! This is clearly written all over particularly when one looks at the way the minorities, the Adivasis, the Dalits, the poor and the vulnerable like the migrant workers are being treated in the country today.
In his Angelus message on Sunday 21 June Pope Francis said:
“Yesterday the United Nations celebrated World Refugee Day. The coronavirus crisis has highlighted the need to ensure the necessary protection for refugees too, in order to guarantee their dignity and safety. I invite you to join me in praying for a renewed and effective commitment, on the part of us all, to the effective protection of every human being, especially those who have been forced to flee as a result of situations of grave danger to them or their families.”
Earlier, (on May 13) in an advance message for the 106th World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2020 (which will be observed on September 27) Pope Francis focuses on ‘Like Jesus Christ, forced to flee: Welcoming, Protecting, Promoting and Integrating Internally Displaced Persons’. He says:
“I have decided to devote this Message to the drama of internally displaced persons, an often-unseen tragedy that the global crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated. In fact, due to its virulence, severity and geographical extent, this crisis has impacted on many other humanitarian emergencies that affect millions of people, which has relegated to the bottom of national political agendas those urgent international efforts essential to saving lives. But this is not a time for forgetfulness. The crisis we are facing should not make us forget the many other crises that bring suffering to so many people”.
He gives us, “six pairs of verbs that deal with very practical actions and are linked together in a relationship of cause and effect”. These are (i) you have ‘to know’ in order ‘to understand’ (ii) it is necessary ‘to be close’ in order ‘to serve’ (iii) in order ‘to be reconciled’, we need ‘to listen’ (iv) in order ‘to grow’, it is necessary ‘to share’ (v) we need ‘to be involved’ in order ‘to promote’ and (vi) it is necessary ‘to cooperate’ in order ‘to build’!
The 16 verbs given to us by Pope Francis need to be seen as directives and even apps to ensure that every action count for the refugees, the stateless and other internally displaced persons. The Covid-19 pandemic and the recent anti-racism protests have shown us how desperately we need to fight for a more inclusive and equal world: A world where no one is left behind. It has never been clearer that all of us have a role to play in order to bring about change. Everyone can make a difference. This is at the heart of UNHCR’s World Refugee Day campaign ‘Every Action Counts’ in the effort to create a more just, inclusive, and equal world.
In his message for ‘World Refugee Day’, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres said:
"Nearly 80 million women, children and men around the world have been forced from their homes as refugees or internally displaced people. Even more shocking: 10 million of these people fled in the past year alone. On World Refugee Day, we pledge to do everything in our power to end the conflict and persecution that drive these appalling numbers.
“This year, the Covid-19 pandemic poses an additional threat to refugees and displaced people, who are among the most vulnerable. My recent Policy Brief on COVID-19 and People on the Move called on Governments to ensure that they are included in all response and recovery efforts”.
So, responding to the plight of the refugees and other displaced, in the midst of the pandemic is certainly a major challenge. Not much will be achieved, if Governments abdicate their role of responding to the cries of this people.
Only when we demonstrate unflinching courage and transparent politics to ensure that these the least of our sisters and brothers, these strangers are made to feel welcome, protected, promoted and integrated; only when we have truly made every effort to know in order to understand them – only then we can say whole-heartedly that, ‘every action counts!’ In the final analysis, Refugees do matter!
---
*Human rights and peace activist/writer

Comments

TRENDING

Buddhist shrines massively destroyed by Brahmanical rulers in "pre-Islamic" era: Historian DN Jha's survey

By Our Representative
Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book, "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

RSS' 25,000 Shishu Mandirs 'follow' factory school model of Christian missionaries

By Bhabani Shankar Nayak*
The executive committee of the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences (IUAES) recently decided to drop the KISS University in Odisha as the co-host of the World Anthropology Congress-2023. The decision is driven by the argument that KISS University is a factory school.

India must recognise: 4,085 km Himalayan borders are with Tibet, not China

By Tenzin Tsundue, Sandeep Pandey*
There has as been a cancerous wound around India’s Himalayan neck ever since India's humiliating defeat during the Chinese invasion of India in 1962. The recent Galwan Valley massacre has only added salt to the wound. It has come to this because, when China invaded the neighbouring country Tibet in 1950, India was in high romance with the newly-established communist regime under Mao Zedong after a bloody revolution.

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur*
Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

Time to give Covid burial, not suspend, World Bank's 'flawed' Doing Business ranking

By Maju Varghese*
On August 27, the World Bank came out with a statement suspending the Doing Business Report. The statement said that a number of irregularities have been reported regarding changes to the data in the Doing Business 2018 and Doing Business 2020 reports, published in October 2017 and 2019. The changes in the data were inconsistent with the Doing Business methodology.

Delhi riots: Cops summoning, grilling, intimidating young to give 'false' evidence

Counterview Desk
More than 440 concerned citizens have supported the statement issued by well-known bureaucrat-turned-human rights activist Harsh Mander ‘We will not be silenced’ which said that the communal riots in Delhi in February 2020 have not been caused by any conspiracy, as alleged by the Delhi Police, but by “hate speech and provocative statements made by a number of political leaders of the ruling party.”

WHO chief ignores India, cites Pak as one of 7 top examples in fight against Covid-19

By Our Representative
In a move that would cause consternation in India’s top policy makers in the Modi government, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, World Health Organization (WHO) director-general, has singled out Pakistan among seven countries that have set “examples” in investing in a healthier and safer future in order to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.

Tata Mundra: NGOs worry as US court rules World Bank can't be sued for 'damages'

By Kate Fried, Mir Jalal*
On August 24 evening, a federal court ruled that the World Bank Group cannot be sued for any damage caused by its lending, despite last year’s Supreme Court ruling in the same case that these institutions can be sued for their “commercial activity” in the United States.

Top Catholic group wants quota for Dalit Christians, foreign fund licenses revived

By Our Representative
Reiterating its long-pending demand to give "scheduled rights for Dalit Christians”, the All-India Catholic Union (AICU) has regretted that while converts to Sikhism and Buddhism from the former untouchable, or Dalit communities, have been included in the scheduled caste (SC) category, Christians from the identical communities have been “kept out.”