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“Developed nations shirking responsibility for refugees”

Special Correspondent

West turning away asylum seekers using semantics: Lama

CHENNAI: Developed countries, which were overwhelmingly responsible for crises in the third world countries, such as Afghanistan, have abdicated their responsibility on refugees, said Mahendra P. Lama, Vice Chancellor, Sikkim University here on Wednesday.

The result of this abdication was now evident: a whole generation of people in Afghanistan are near-illiterate, have known no peace and have been handling weapons form a very tender age, he said delivering the keynote address at a national seminar on ‘Refugee Situation in India Today,' organised by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the Centre for Asia Studies. Pakistan, a very generous host of refugees from Afghanistan, was now shutting its doors on Afghans, forcing them to live in the struggle torn areas, he added.

Noting that most of the refugee movements were from one developing country to another, he pointed out that, increasingly, the developed world was taking refuge in semantics to drive away genuine refugees. Citing one instance, he said that Bosnian women refugees were sent back from Germany because Germany claimed that the women were not at the receiving end of State-sponsored violence. Developed countries were also putting in place a series of measures that would eventually make it difficult for an asylum seeker to turn to another developed country, in the event of one developed country closing its doors on him/her. “Once one door is closed, all doors [of developed countries] follow suit automatically,” he said.

Historian Ramachandra Guha said that India was also among the largest refugee producing countries. The internally displaced in India — because of large dams, wild life sanctuaries, special economic zones and other development activities — number close to 15 million. Though the issue of many classes of citizens have been highlighted, the lot of tribals was almost forgotten. Maoists have stepped into this vacuum left by the State and the other players, he said.

In her inaugural address, Montserrat Feixas Vihe, Chief of Mission, UNHCR, New Delhi, said that India had a very humane attitude towards refugees and they were granted a fair amount of movement. Refugees and officials working in the field could learn a great deal from India's culture of tolerance, diversity and secularism.

Making a strong case for a national refugee legislation in India, V. Suryanarayan, Senior Research Fellow, CAS, said that refugees were looked after well in India. More than 30 per cent of Indians lived below the poverty line but the condition of refugees in India is much better than that of Indian below the poverty line. Since refugees were treated in a humane manner and with dignity, the government had decided not to sign the treaty on refugees.

S. Narayan, president CAS, who welcomed, said that the Centre attempted to provide a fresh perspective on contemporary events in Asia. R.S. Vasan, head, strategy and security studies, CAS, said that the Centre organised discussions and seminars on many issues to help understand these issues better, and from newer and fresher perspectives.

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