For hundreds of refugees, India is their 2nd home
New Delhi: For hundreds of refugees and asylum seekers, who left their home to avoid war, oppression or fear of persecution, India is a second home where they feel more secure than in their own country.
Despite the pain of leaving their homes and in many cases, part of their families, these stateless people are now hoping for a better life.
And for them, the World Refugee Day on June 20 is not a time to brood over the painful past but to look forward to building their future in their second home -- India.
Lai Za Thang, a 25-year-old from Myanmar, who fled his country along with his brother to avoid persecution by the military government, says he feels much secure here in India than in his own country.
"It was difficult to cope with life as a refugee, but I have slowly started loving this country. India is the second home for us," Lai Za told a news agency.
Lai Za, who came to India in 2008, leads a Myanmarese youth club called 'Nightingale' in Vikashpuri area in the national capital.
Liban Siekh Hassan, a 24-year-old from Somalia, also has a similar experience in India.
"It's not very easy to mingle with people and get private accommodation here and the reason may be our look and language. But by and large, we are much better in India than in our own country, so we should not be complaining," he said.
These refugees have gathered here for a cultural programme organised at the Don Bosco Ashalayam, an NGO and partnering agency on UNHRC, to celebrate World Refugee Day.
For 18-year-old Fayaz, leaving his home in Afghanistan and living a life of refugee is very painful. "But being safe is much more important than living in uncertainty," he said, describing how difficult it was for their family to flee the war-torn country.
Ask anyone of the over 1,94,000 refugees or asylum seekers about their stay in India, the answer will be similar.
However, many of them wish Indians to be little more accommodative and friendly towards them.
"Although, I am more secure here than in my country, many a times, I felt bad the way I was being treated by the locals," said Parpe, a 26-year-old refugee from Myanmar.
"Their attitude towards us, especially towards the girls, needs to be changed," she said.
Concurs Hassan and says, "We are getting all support from UNHCR, and local administration whenever we face any problem. But unless the locals accept us more cordially, difficulties will remain there."
Although India hosts thousands of refugees, it is not a signatory to the the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees or its 1967 Protocol, which sets out the rights of individuals granted asylum, and the responsibilities of nations that grant asylum.
And also there is no legal framework with regard to the protection of refugees. The process of addressing huge refugee inflows has been mainly through executive action, said a senior official at the UN Refugee Agency in Delhi.
"In the absence of a national refugee law, India's policies towards refugees is ad hoc. UNHCR advocates for a humane refugee law that is consistent with international human rights standards. A draft national refugee law is currently under discussion," she said.
"However, the country's track record in accepting and handling mass influx of refugees over the years has been commendable," the official added.
According to UNHCR, India honours the principle of "non-refoulement" which prohibits the forcible return of refugees to their own countries where their lives could be in danger.
The rights of refugees are by and large respected via Article 14 and 21 of the Indian Constitution, which guarantees the right to equality before law and the right to life and personal liberty respectively to anyone residing in the country.