“…I was a stranger and you invited me in”


The world is facing the highest refugee crises ever since World War II and the conditions have significantly worsened ever since. Millions of homeless people in search of food, shelter, and jobs are roaming in some other country and have the title of being “stateless”. These conditions raise questions on the governments of not just the origin countries but also on the host countries.

A humanitarian approach is the only way in dealing with the refugee crises and every nation must keep this in mind while handling refugee crises.


We are witnessing the highest level of displacement by people and the numbers are increasing day by day. The Refugee crisis can be defined as the displacement of people in large groups, displacing externally, facing problems while moving, and also problems faced by the country hosting those displaced people seeking refuge.

According to a recent article by Mercy Corps, “nearly 80 million people around the world are displaced from their homes.”. The main causes of such displacement and seeking refuge in other countries are persecution, war, and violence as stated by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugee. Other factors include violation of people’s human rights, economic, and environmental problems.

From the data gathered we can say that nearly 1% of the total world’s population is displaced. Such a stateless population suffers and lives amid problems that are out of depth for a normal person.

More than two-thirds of the total displaced population originates from only 5 countries:


Millions of the total world’s population, who aren’t given a nationality, are forced to survive in unimaginable conditions. They are deprived of basic rights such as the right to education, right to employment, right to proper healthcare, and other fundamental rights that every human deserves.  

Sometimes refugees settle in countries that speak different languages than the one that is spoken by the refugee. This creates a language barrier which ultimately affects communication and hinders job availing, buying daily necessities, and makes day to day working difficult.

A very common example of this is people from Myanmar taking refuge in Bangladesh. The Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, which is a minority community, have experienced ethnic and religious mistreatment which led to them taking refuge in different South Asian countries especially in Bangladesh.

There are around 860,356 Rohingyas in Bangladesh as estimated in June 2020. These refugees speak a different language than the language spoken by the aid workers. 62% of Rohingya refugees who were surveyed were unable to communicate with the aid workers.

About 40% of the total population displaced is children. Raising children in refugee camps is not only difficult but also affects their entire life. They are rarely provided with any education. Less than half of the school-aged refugee children were enrolled for primary and secondary education however more than half of them did not even attend schools. As per the data collected by UNHCR, only “3% of the refugees enroll in college or university.”.

The refugees like any other human need a source of income to fill their bellies and to keep a roof over their heads. Getting jobs is extremely difficult for refugees. They might be financially sound in their native country but after seeking refuge in another country, they have to start from scratch.

Even if they get jobs, which majorly consists of labor work, the working conditions are deplorable and they are mostly exploited and very underpaid for the work they do. Even though they suffer such exploitation they continue working in such conditions since they are desperate to earn money.

Finding a place to live is also not an easy feat for them. Firstly, it is expensive and with their low-wage jobs, it is difficult to afford good housing conditions. Secondly, since they are unaware of their rights, landlords often charge them with higher rent to take advantage of their grim conditions.

Poor hygiene conditions and lack of proper health care facilities are other major problems faced by this vulnerable group. The situation has worsened in recent times as the Covid-19 pandemic emerged worldwide. Refugees don’t have adequate access to water and hygiene products. Also, social distancing is very difficult to be practiced as often refugee camps hold 5 to 10 persons each.

Women constitute more than half of the refugee population along with their young children. They are affected the most because of improper health care facilities. Women are deprived of proper menstrual care products and are subjected to sexual violence.

At least 1 out of 5 refugee women has experienced sexual abuse. Young girls and women undergo domestic violence and are raped by fellow refugees.  

I never got the chance to sleep in settlements. I was too scared that anyone would touch me. The tents were all mixed and I witnessed violence”

                                                                                                       –Reem, Syrian Refugee


As per the data collected by UNHCR, only 5 countries are host to 39% of the total displaced population.

Following are generally the problems faced by the host countries:

  • Increase in population.
  • Increased financial burden.
  • Environmental issues.
  • Food and other necessary supply crises.

As per recent data by UNHCR, 85% of the host countries are developing countries, which further complicates the situation of the hosts. Hence, every nation faces its specific concerns as per its particular issues.


Internationally speaking, the United Nations is the body taking care of all matters dealing with refugees.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was drafted by legal and cultural representatives from all over the world, is a common standard of achievement by all nations. Article 14 of the said Declaration states that “everyone has the right to seek and enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.”.

Furthermore, the United Nations (UN) established the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in the year 1950. This agency tries to aid and protect refugees all over the world by providing:

  • Support to the host countries.
  • Enhancement of self-reliance of the refugees.
  • Provide the refugees with other basic necessities (education, health care, shelter, etc.)
  • Making conditions of the origin countries safe for their return with dignity.

The UNHCR serves as a guardian to the United Nations Convention Relating to Status of Refugees 1951. This convention states that a refugee should not be forced to return to their original country. Every signatory state of the convention is expected to cooperate with the provision of the convention. In addition to this, the Convention also incorporates the following rights to the refugees:

  • Providing legal status.
  • Employment opportunities.
  • Providing education to them.
  • Ensuring social security for them.
  • Not to punish them for entering the host country illegally.

1967 Protocol is another regulatory agreement by the UN which came into effect in furtherance of the 1951 Convention. This expanded the applicability of the 1951 Convention. It states that the 1951 Convention now applies universally amongst those who have ratified the protocol. It further states that the Convention would still be applicable to the Protocol signing nation even though it has not signed the Convention.

As of January 2020, 146 nations have signed the Convention and 147 nations have signed the Protocol. Countries like Madagascar and Saint Kitts and Nevis have ratified only the Convention, and countries like the USA, Venezuela, and Cape Verde have signed only the Protocol.

Turkey is considered as the top hosting country with 3.6 million refugees. It has enhanced national laws for refugees it hosts. It has consequently signed the convention but with a geographical limitation of the European Union (EU).

Turkey and the EU have made agreements wherein US$3.25 billion were provided for the refugees of Syria and Iraq and in return for preventing the refugees from entering the EU. Furthermore, steps were taken by Turkey in the filing, registering, and controlling the refugee population of the country. ID cards, translational services, education, work, and other basic needs of the refugees are also taken care of. 

The United States has not signed the UN Convention but has consequently ratified the Protocol. A few years back, the States “offered refuge each year to more people than all other nations combined”. However, after President Donald Trump came into power, a significant reduction in the refugee population has been observed.

The law requires the refugee to prove that they are in “well-founded fear”. Furthermore, it is also to be provided that those individuals must not be firmly settled in any other country. As a whole, the US refugee policy is criticized largely because it is seen that whether a refugee would get asylum or not largely depends on the adjudicator.

Sometimes one adjudicator may refuse to provide asylum to a particular refugee but another adjudicator would agree in giving asylum to the same refugee. No fixed procedure can be seen here and getting refuge totally depends on the will and discretion of the adjudicator.  

India has not signed the UN Convention nor has it signed the Protocol. This gives the country liberty to select which type of refugees it would prefer in giving refuge and which it will not. For instance, Tibetans are welcomed with open arms into the country however Rohingyas were mostly not given a pass to enter.

I believe there are a few major reasons which lead to India not ratifying the Convention or the Protocol. Firstly, India itself faces a shortage of resources and is yet to develop better infrastructure for its own people. In such a scenario, leaving an open gate for others to enter and make use of the already scarce resources would affect the entire country.

Secondly, India possesses a degree of skepticism towards a few neighboring nations.

In addition to not ratifying the Convention and Protocol, the legislature recently passed the Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 to provide, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains, Parsis, and Christians who entered India before December 2014 from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan, faster citizenship to the country.

The law in India does not define ‘refugee’ as such, nor does it possess any specific ‘refugee law’ in the forms of Acts or Statutes. The government at its discretion can easily tag all those who have taken refuge within the country as unauthorized or ‘illegal’ and remove them from the country.

 But on the other hand, India is a host to a large number of refugees even though it does not ratify the Convention. An estimate of 195,105 refugees are presently hosted by the country, making it one of the biggest refugee population country in entire South Asia. Even while being a host to such a large refugee population it does not draw any money from the UN.


A sustainable refugee policy approach should be taken in view which not only keeps in mind the betterment of the displaced population but also the population already living in the host country. In the current situation, the UN has declared ‘contemporary refugee crises’ in many parts of the globe. This includes countries like India and its approach to its South Asian neighbors.

It is high time now and India needs to take a humanitarian approach toward this ongoing refugee crisis. It cannot act as an audience to the refugee situation while others deal with it. For starters, it can try to make amends in its inter-governmental tensions.

Another approach could be a ratification of the Convention or Protocol but with a territorial limitation. This way it can have relations like the one Turkey and the EU have. India can limit its refugee origin nations and still be a party to the United Nations Convention. This way it can also draw money from the UN for the purpose of providing better facilities and daily necessities to the refugees.

The role of private organizations and NGOs is equally necessary in improving the conditions of refugees not just in India but also around the world.

Adding to the points of India not having any formally declared ‘refugee laws’ in form of Statutes and Act, the country should make efforts in formulating a comprehensive framework for the refugees present currently in the country.

Like India, other nations also need to work to building proper frameworks for their refugee crises and work to the advantage of their refugees.


By Dhanvi Joshi, 3rd Year B.A.LL.B (Hons.), Faculty of Law, The Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, Vadodara.