June 17, 2010
Recent Attacks on Afghan Christians in Delhi Highlight the plight of the Refuge Population in India.
On June 14, 2010 a group of young persons in a car ram into a disabled Afghan Christian, Hamidullah. The attackers, young Afghani men, seemingly belonged to the Muslim community. Earlier in the month, in another incident, eight boys allegedly attacked a young Afghan Christian boy, calling him a pagan and infidel. In yet another incident, a group of allegedly Indian and Afghan Muslims beat another Afghan, a Christian named Mirdad Ali, in the commercial zone of Nehru Place, calling him a pagan.
Obaid S Christ, a pastor of a small Afghan congregation in south Delhi, who informed the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) of these incidents, himself has been subjected to frequent attacks. In one such incident, two motorcycle riders attacked him. In another incident his house was broken into. He has also received threatening calls and has been forced to shift his home.
Police have repeatedly refused to register the complaints of the refugee community in India, claiming that "illegal immigrants" are not entitled to legal protection. Most do not have the required documentation to remain in country even as their applications are under process in the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Even having a refugee certificate from UNHCR is no guarantee that the Indian government will not deport refugees back to their country.
Pastor Obaid and others were featured in various videos posted on YouTube and one of the videos was aired on Noorni TV in Afghanistan in May-end. Obaid told EFI that their families in Afghanistan had been threatened and some members had even been imprisoned for their faith.
Status of Refugees in India
These incidents highlight the vulnerability of the refugee community who were forced to leave their country and are subjected to further discrimination and harassment even in India.
According to the Office of the UNHCR, during the year there were 11,321 refugees under its mandate in the country. Since 1960, the government has hosted approximately 110,000 de facto refugees from Tibet. Tibetan leaders in the country stated that the government treated them extremely well - though many others have grievances. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has spent 180.7 million rupees (approximately $4.2 million) on Tibetan refugee resettlement. According to the World Refugee Survey, 456,000 refugees were in the country, including the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists. The survey also noted that there were 100,000 refugees from Burma (officially, Myanmar), 30,000 from Afghanistan, 25,000 from Bhutan, and another 25,000 from Nepal residing in the country.
India is not party to the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees or its 1967 Protocol - China and Afghanistan are. Due to the absence of clear guidelines, refugees are generally governed under the Foreigners Act 1946, which defines a foreigner as a person who is not a citizen of India and is thus eligible to be deported. The government has established a de-facto system for providing protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. However, the government's dealings with the refugees depend on domestic politics and international relations in the region, and are therefore unpredictable.
Most refugees or asylum seekers live without access to proper shelter, employment or legal processes. Many are forced to work as street vendors or translators, a highly visible job which made it easy for police to extort money or inventory from them. Many instances of sexual abuse also go unreported due to the ambiguity of the status of the asylum seekers.
Call to Action
EFI invites churches across India to observe the World Refugee Day on June 20 by organising a special time for reflection. EFI also requests prayers for the following:
1. For special protection for the Afghan Christian community in India.
2. For India to pass a domestic law that would provide for protection of the basic fundamental rights of every refugee or asylum seeker in the line with the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.
3. That the church in India would respond with compassion to the needs for the refugees around us by assisting in meeting their basic needs and for advocating for a change in government polices and laws.