The United Nations Refugee Agency's Assistant High Commissioner ends a four-day official visit to India

Wrapping up a four-day visit to India, the UN Refugee Agency’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, Ms. Gillian Triggs, called for renewed efforts in finding solutions for people fleeing conflict and persecution. She praised the country’s longstanding generosity in hosting and protecting refugees. India currently hosts approximately 216,000 refugees and asylum-seekers, including refugees from Myanmar, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka. 

Ms. Gillian Triggs arrived in India on April 25, meeting refugees, senior Government officials from the Ministry of External Affairs, the Ministry of Home Affairs, Tamil Nadu State Officials, National Human Rights Commission, donors and diplomatic community. She was accompanied by the UNHCR Director of the Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific, Mr. Indrika Ratwatte.

In Delhi and Chennai, the Assistant High Commissioner listened to refugees share their experience of living in India and their aspirations for the future. Many spoke of the difficulties they faced during the COVID-19 pandemic including loss of livelihood, an inability to meet their rent and other daily needs, and having to put education on hold. During her meeting with refugee youth representatives, boys and girls spoke of their desire to resume their education and skills training which has kept their spirits afloat, given the hardship that they have already endured.

“As is the case for us all, the chance to develop and apply our capacities, whether as a doctor, teacher, or shop owner, is central to forging a sense of purpose and maintaining resilience. Refugees highlighted that these opportunities are the foundation for the long term, including for their return when conditions allow,” said Ms. Triggs.

The Assistant High Commissioner applauded India’s example-setting approach to the inclusion of refugees in the national COVID-19 response and vaccination plan. “The inclusive vaccination response in India has saved lives. Responding to the needs of host communities and refugees on an equal basis has been essential to ensuring that the most vulnerable are protected.” While India has shown humanity and solidarity, in line with the guiding principles of the Global Compact on Refugees, the international community must step up and give practical effect to the obligation to share responsibility, and protect refugees, and support the host Government of India,” said Ms. Triggs. She also thanked the UN, donors, the private sector, NGOs, civil society and refugee-led organizations for coming to the support of refugees and host communities.  

Inclusion is central to the challenges that refugees face, as well as the solution to these challenges. Documentation was identified as the key building block for refugees to prosper and contribute to India. Identification papers are needed to gain a bank account, access to social welfare schemes and recognition of qualifications.

The Assistant High Commissioner for Protection reiterated the urgent need to continue working towards sustainable solutions, including the voluntary, safe and dignified returns of Sri Lankan refugees to their country. During her visit to Chennai, she met with the officials of the State government of Tamil Nadu and the Sri Lanka High Commission. Ms Triggs expressed her deep appreciation for India’s decades-long efforts to support Sri Lankan refugees. Many have had protection in India for more than thirty years and nearly half of the refugees were born in the country. While continuing to work towards voluntary repatriation, the Assistant High Commissioner was encouraged to hear of the consideration by key stakeholders to pursue a pathway to citizenship for those refugees who wish to remain in India.

Indrika Ratwatte called for expanded support for new refugees from the neighbouring countries in the region. “Despite the many crises in the world, it is critical that the international community not neglect the needs of refugees from Myanmar and Afghanistan seeking shelter and protection, as the socio-economic impact of the pandemic is only starting to be felt,” he added.