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

What's Bill Gates up to? Have 'irregularities' found in funding HPV vaccine trials faded?

By Colin Gonsalves*  After having read the 72nd report of the Department Related Parliamentary Standing Committee on alleged irregularities in the conduct of studies using HPV vaccines by PATH in India, it was startling to see Bill Gates bobbing his head up and down and smiling ingratiatingly on prime time television while the Prime Minister lectured him in Hindi on his plans for the country. 

Muted profit margins, moderate increase in costs and sales: IIM-A survey of 1000 cos

By Our Representative  The Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad’s (IIM-A's) latest Business Inflation Expectations Survey (BIES) has said that the cost perceptions data obtained from India’s business executives suggests that there is “mild increase in cost pressures”.

Magnetic, stunning, Protima Bedi 'exposed' malice of sexual repression in society

By Harsh Thakor*  Protima Bedi was born to a baniya businessman and a Bengali mother as Protima Gupta in Delhi in 1949. Her father was a small-time trader, who was thrown out of his family for marrying a dark Bengali women. The theme of her early life was to rebel against traditional bondage. It was extraordinary how Protima underwent a metamorphosis from a conventional convent-educated girl into a freak. On October 12th was her 75th birthday; earlier this year, on August 18th it was her 25th death anniversary.

Govt putting India's professionals, skilled, unskilled labour 'at mercy of' big business

By Thomas Franco, Dinesh Abrol*  As it is impossible to refute the report of the International Labour Organisation, Chief Economic Advisor Anantha Nageswaran recently said that the government cannot solve all social, economic problems like unemployment and social security. He blamed the youth for not acquiring enough skills to get employment. Then can’t the people ask, ‘Why do we have a government? Is it not the government’s responsibility to provide adequate employment to its citizens?’

A Hindu alternative to Valentine's Day? 'Shiv-Parvati was first love marriage in Universe'

By Rajiv Shah*   The other day, I was searching on Google a quote on Maha Shivratri which I wanted to send to someone, a confirmed Shiv Bhakt, quite close to me -- with an underlying message to act positively instead of being negative. On top of the search, I chanced upon an article in, imagine!, a Nashik Corporation site which offered me something very unusual. 

IMA vs Ramdev: Why what's good or bad for goose should be good or bad for gander

By Dr Amitav Banerjee, MD* Baba Ramdev and his associate Balkrishna faced the wrath of the Supreme Court for their propaganda about their Ayurvedic products and belittling mainstream medicine. Baba Ramdev had to apologize in court. His apology was not accepted and he may face the contempt of court with harsher punishment. The Supreme Court acted on a public interest litigation (PIL) moved by the Indian Medical Association (IMA).

'Flawed' argument: Gandhi had minimal role, naval mutinies alone led to Independence

Counterview Desk Reacting to a Counterview  story , "Rewiring history? Bose, not Gandhi, was real Father of Nation: British PM Attlee 'cited'" (January 26, 2016), an avid reader has forwarded  reaction  in the form of a  link , which carries the article "Did Atlee say Gandhi had minimal role in Independence? #FactCheck", published in the site satyagrahis.in. The satyagraha.in article seeks to debunk the view, reported in the Counterview story, taken by retired army officer GD Bakshi in his book, “Bose: An Indian Samurai”, which claims that Gandhiji had a minimal role to play in India's freedom struggle, and that it was Netaji who played the crucial role. We reproduce the satyagraha.in article here. Text: Nowadays it is said by many MK Gandhi critics that Clement Atlee made a statement in which he said Gandhi has ‘minimal’ role in India's independence and gave credit to naval mutinies and with this statement, they concluded the whole freedom struggle.

Youth as game changers in Lok Sabha polls? Young voter registration 'is so very low'

By Dr Mansee Bal Bhargava*  Young voters will be the game changers in 2024. Do they realise this? Does it matter to them? If it does, what they should/must vote for? India’s population of nearly 1.3 billion has about one-fifth 19.1% as youth. With 66% of its population (808 million) below the age of 35, India has the world's largest youth population. Among them, less than 40% of those who turned 18 or 19 have registered themselves for 2024 election. According to the Election Commission of India (ECI), just above 1.8 crore new voters (18-and 19-year-olds) are on the electoral rolls/registration out of the total projected 4.9 crore new voters in this age group.

Indians witnessing 'regression to Hindutva politics' under Modi ahead of elections

By Bhabani Shankar Nayak*  The forthcoming general election in India, scheduled from April 19, 2024, to June 1, 2024, to elect the 543 members of the 18th Lok Sabha and the new Government of India, carries immense significance for the preservation of India's identity as a liberal, secular, and constitutional democracy.

An equine landmark, Cheltenham Gold Cup centenary 'epitomized' heights unparalleled

By Harsh Thakor*  The Cheltenham Gold Cup  is the most prestigious jumping race in the British Isles Steeplechasing calendar and the Cheltenham festival, a cynosure of every English and Irish racegoer. Few sporting events match or surpass the sheer intensity, competitiveness and joy that radiates its legacy. Few moments are more pulsating than witnessing a Gold Cup or a Cheltenham festival. In addition to that the race is run amidst the background of an evergreen English countryside, encircled by hills and pastures, giving a sensation of a paradise or heavenly location.