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

Tracing roots of Hindutva Zionism: cannon fodder for 'warped' nationalist pretensions

By Shamsul Islam*  Those who believe in a world free of hegemonic ethno-nationalism, racism, religious bigotry and hatred have rightly taken note of Zionism and its ally Christian Zionism, major perpetrators of ethnic cleansing of ‘Others’. However, the civilized world with its core belief in multi-culturalism and peaceful co-existence is oblivious to a no less dangerous threat to the present human civilization: the Hindutva Zionism. As the term reads it is part of the Hindutva world-view which stands for an exclusive Hindu India minus Muslims and Christians. The other religions like Sikhism, Buddhism, and Jainism will have no independent status but treated as part of Hinduism. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS; National Volunteer Organization) is the most prominent flag-bearer of the Hindutva politics whose cadres presently rule India, the largest democracy in the world. RSS was founded by Keshav Baliram Hedgewar (1889-1940) in 1925 who was disillusioned with the Indian freedom st

Regional parties, anti-Congress progressives, civil society groups 'joining' Bharat Jodo

By Harshavardhan Purandare, Sandeep Pandey*  The Congress party declared Bharat Chhodo (Quit India) movement against the British regime in 1942. The Congress party has now launched a movement Bharat Jodo (Connecting and Uniting India) against the Modi regime in 2022. Indian people have had a journey of 80 years since Mahatma Gandhi gave that Quit India call to the British and we have to agree that we stand most divided in our modern history when Rahul Gandhi is giving this Bharat Jodo call to the nation. And back then, Congress was a thriving idealistic political movement against the British rulers and now it is an ever weakening political organization electorally defeated several times. However, it is India at stake, not just the Congress party. That is why so many regional political parties, civil society organizations, traditional anti-Congress progressive forces like socialists and communists, intellectuals and civil servants have declared their support and are proactively partici

Shocking? No Covid vaccine trials conducted on pregnant, lactating women: RTI reply

By Rosamma Thomas*  A Right to Information applicant who sought details of safety trials conducted in India on pregnant and lactating women for three Covid vaccines in use in India – Covishield, Covaxin and ZyCov-D -- was shocked to learn from the Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSCO) that Serum Institute, manufacturer of Covishield, and Cadila Healthcare, manufacturer of the ZyCov-D vaccine, had not sought permission for such trials.  Bharat Biotech, manufacturer of Covaxin, had sought permission for trial on pregnant women and later withdrawn its application. This response , provided after the applicant was initially unsatisfied with the response and went in appeal, is from the joint drugs controller, CDSCO. It was dated September 13, 2022. One researcher closely following the vaccine rollout, however, is of the opinion that the lack of a trial on pregnant and lactating women is a blessing; potential trial participants and their unborn babies thus escaped harm. Aruna Ro

Grave error? Scholar blames ex-Gujarat babu for anti-Christian riots 'citing fake report'

By Rajiv Shah  A few days back, I received a message from one of the finest former Gujarat government bureaucrats, PG Ramrakhiani, a 1964 batch IAS official, who retired in November 2000. I would often interact with him in 1997-99, even later, after I was sent to Gandhinagar as a Times of India man to cover Sachivalaya. Those were turbulent times. Shankarsinh Vaghela was the Gujarat chief minister, under attack from two sides – from the BJP, which he had left to form a separate breakaway party, Rashtriya Janata Party (RJP), one one hand, and the Congress, which was supporting him from outside, on the other. Ramrakhiani, in his message, referred to the book authored by Ghanshyam Shah and Jan Breman, both top-notch scholars who have known Gujarat in and out. Called “Gujarat, Cradle and Harbinger of Identity Politics: India’s Injurious Frame of Communalism”, I reviewed the book in January 2022.  It claims that Muslims in Gujarat have been turned into “new untouchables”, thanks to the Hin

Excess to cheetah in Kuno to increase 'woes' of local people, 'disturb' wildlife balance

Bharat Dogra*  The release of eight cheetahs into the Kuno National Park ( Madhya Pradesh) by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on September 17, although accompanied by a media blitz, has raised several questions. The animals were flown from Namibia to Gwalior and from there they were taken to the release site in a helicopter. Official sources have stated that this is the first time a large carnivorous species has been moved across continents for establishing a new population. This first release will be followed by others under this project. However, precisely for this reason, it is important to be cautious because if such translocations have been generally avoided in the past, there may have been reasons for this and at the same time we do not have much learning experiences from the past. The Cheetah became extinct in India in 1952, although this very fast moving animal is still remembered in the folklore of many areas. Hence the first impulse is to say that trying to introduce and revive

Rajasthan cops 'halt' Gujarat Dalit women's rally: homage to untouchability victim boy

By Our Representative  In a surprise move, the Rajasthan police stopped a Dalit women's rally from Gujarat on the borders after it crossed Gujarat alleging that it would "disturb peace" in village Surana, Jalore district, where the gruesome incident of death of a Dalit boy took place on August 13 after he was brutally beaten up by his teacher on touching the drinking water pot. Sources said, while the Gujarat government had "no objection" in allowing the rally, which originated from the Dalit Shakti Kendra (DSK), an empowerment-cut-technical institute for teens founded by human rights leader Martin Macwan, on September 24 morning, the Rajasthan police stopped it for two and a half hours before allowing it to proceed to Surana. The decision to take out a women's rally was taken at a DSK meeting on September 5 following a condolence meeting of the NGO Navsarjan Trust, also founded by Macwan, activists committed to work against caste-based discrimination, orga

Introducing non-native cheetahs is 'not equivalent' to restoring pride in the nation

By Bappaditya Mukhopadhyay*  The Cheetahs from the African continent has finally been introduced to India by the Indian Prime Minister on his 72nd birthday. The process had started with the previous Government in 2009. However, the Supreme Court clearance was pending owing to the objection by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) plea to reintroduce cheetahs. Finally the clearance was obtained in January 2020 and thereafter Kuno National Park (KNP) was chosen for the reintroduction of first set of Southeast African Cheetahs. In the near future, depending upon the success story of the current reintroduction, more cheetahs from South Africa may also be introduced. This exercise has generated a lot of interest among various stakeholders with opinions on both sides galore. It is important to pose some questions that surround the whole exercise. Let us evaluate some of these arguments. The first set of arguments are quite detached from the issues of conservation as they most

'Military diplomacy': US praises Bangladesh Army for leadership role in UN operations

By Kamal Uddin Mazumder* As the Indo-Pacific region represents the world’s economic and strategic center of gravity, the Indian Ocean today is becoming the centerpiece of all geo-strategic play. Cooperation in the region is crucial to implementing the international community’s global agenda, including achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Major powers like the US have enhanced and deepened their strategic engagement and leadership roles with countries in the region. The Indo-Pacific Army Management Seminar, or IPAMS, is a U.S. Army Pacific (USARPAC) initiated conference that is aimed at facilitating and enhancing interactions among the armies of the Indo-Pacific region. This year's 46th Indo-Pacific Armies Management Seminar (IPAMS)-2022, co-hosted by the Bangladesh Army and US Army Pacific (USARPAC), concluded in Dhaka. The objective of IPAMS is to promote peace and stability in the region through mutual understanding, dialogue, and friendship. It is the largest confer

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara 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".

Older than Delhi, no other school may have witnessed so many vicissitudes as this one

By Firoz Bakht Ahmed*  Behind every book there is a writer or writers. Are the books written for the personal gratification of authors? Is the purpose utilitarian, educational or to gain public ovation? There are writers who publish books because they are inspired by a purely disinterested and fair-minded pursuit of knowledge and to clarify the issues that agitate them and society. The book under discussion   is a masterstroke on the life and times of not only an institution at Ajmeri Gate, Delhi — Anglo Arabic School — but about the complex relationship between the school and the cajoled Muslim community. Just while you are at Ajmeri Gate, supposedly, the border of Old and New Delhi, barely a few meters from the cacophony and the chaos outside the New Delhi railway station, lies an island of serenity — a school much older than New Delhi, with a wholesale machine tools market on its West, a road leading to Rajiv Chowk (Connaught Place) on the East and colourful confusion of rickshaws,