News Stories, 31 January 2008
GENEVA, January 31 (UNHCR) – The UN refugee agency and the government of India on Thursday held their first formal high-level bilateral consultations, underlining their growing cooperation in addressing refugee problems worldwide.
"The consultations with India have been extremely fruitful and enlightening," said António Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. "India has ensured protection for many refugees and displaced populations over the years, and our discussions today have provided important insights into mechanisms and approaches needed to address challenging issues of displacement facing the international community."
The agenda, which was kept open to allow for wide-ranging discussions, included both global challenges such as dealing with the mixed flows of refugees and migrants, and issues focused on developments in India.
Although India is not a party to the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees, it has long hosted large refugee populations. UNHCR has maintained an office there continually since 1981 and the meeting in Geneva to strengthen cooperation was proposed by Guterres during an official visit to India in December 2006.
UNHCR and India have been working closely to find solutions for specific refugee groups in India. The problem of some 9,300 Afghans who had been refugees in India since the Soviet invasion of their country in 1979 was resolved by India agreeing to naturalize about 90 percent of them – people who were Hindu or Sikh – and several other countries agreeing to resettle the rest.
In the past two years, new refugee populations have arrived in India, including Iraqis and Palestinians who have fled Baghdad. UNHCR currently is responsible for determining whether individuals receive refugee status. A national legal framework for protection of refugees is under consideration by India.
UNHCR is also interested in strengthening cooperation with India on regional and global forced displacement issues. India has been a member of UNHCR's governing Executive Committee since 1996 and UNHCR would welcome its participation in major new areas of discussion such as UN reform and handling the mixed flow or refugees and migrants.
Given India's expertise, UNHCR would also like to strengthen collaboration with India in the field of emergency preparedness.
Guterres praised India's generous treatment of refugees over the years, noting it could serve as guidance for other countries. Among the refugees currently hosted, India provides services to more than 73,000 Sri Lankans in camps – 22,000 who arrived since May 2006 – and hosts more than 100,000 Tibetans in local settlements.