Conflicts and Refugees in South Asia :
Emerging Newer Dynamics in International Relations
Prof Mahendra P Lama
(A National University established
by an Act of Parliament)
Gangtok, Sikkim, India
E Mail : firstname.lastname@example.org
Website : www.sikkimuniversity.in
11-12 February 2009
Refugees in South Asia
Country Nos. ‟ 000 Principal
Places of Origin
Bangladesh 22.17 Myanmar (100 %)
India 169.54 Tibet (34.4%)
Sri Lanka (36.9 %)
Nepal 130.94 Bhutan (84%)
Pakistan 2198.8 Afghanistan (100%)
World 12.029 Million
% of 20.94
South Asia (2.52 Million)
Success Stories In South Asia
** Tibetans in India and Nepal :
150,000 Quietly and tightly integrated into these societies
** East Pakistanis (Bangladeshis) in India
10 million refugees came
to Eastern and North Eastern India
on the eve of Liberation War in Bangladesh.
** Afghan Refugees In Pakistan
Successful management and repatriation continues
More recently : Chakmas successfully repatriated
from India : : Peace Accord of 1997.
None of them have ratified 1951 UN Conventions and 1967
Protocol on Refugees
I Why these EXODUS : most fundamental question ?
Constitute citizens from across the board.
Causes widely vary : Conflict and Violence key features
(1) Political independence
(2) Human rights violation : social discrimination & de-citizening
(3) Economic alienation : poverty, forced land colonisation
(4) Religious persecution, cultural discrimination
and population transfer
(5) Environmental dislocation : high dam projects,
desertification and natural disasters.
(6) Cross border aid and abetment
(7) Interventions by extra regional powers :
strategic goals & political constituency
Factors that sustain conflicts
Complex and Diverse :
Retributive spirit against the heavy clamp down
by the state authorities
Mobilization of newer generation of fighters,
Engagements of terrorist groups in
International nexus and coalition of terrorist groups
Tactics and fear and persecution.
Conflicts have undergone
large scale transformation
More fierce and more recurrent.
"Destructured conflicts" or
"low intensity wars"
Have killed more people than by the conflicts
created by geo-political rivalry.
Clashes between the majority and the minority
74 % Sinhalese
and 12.6 % Sri Lankan Tamils in Sri Lanka
And Prolonged complaints of systematic deprivations
# Secessionist movement :
LTTE for Independent Homeland
for Tamils of Sri Lanka
# Large-scale killings by the terrorist force like LTTE
Exodus of Sri Lankan Tamils to
South Indian State of Tamil Nadu
Excessive unpaid Community Labour and
dismal food security :
# Army actions : “Operation Nag Min” by Myanmarese army
# Armed clashes between State Law and Order
Reconstruction Council (SLORC) and
Arakanese Rohingya Islamic Front in Myanmar;
Exodus of Rohingyas from Rakhine areas
of Myanmar to Bangladesh.
Cry for development autonomy since British period
by Chakmas in CHT region
•Displacement by development projects :
•Kaptai Dam Project (1957-62)
# Demographic alterations : Conscious attempt by
Govt. to make them a Buddhist minority in CHT :
Incentives to Bengali Muslims from plains to settle in CHT
Deployed military to enforce this.
Result : Demographic composition sharp change
1951 Hill people 90.9 % -- Bengalis 9.1 %
1991 Hill People 51.5 % -- Bengalis 48 %
Dilution of ethnic identity
# Search for Democratic space in Bhutan
Constituted 50 percent of the population.
Imposition of cultural values,
practices and code of conduct :
Zonkha language, Kho and Kira dresses.
Instruments : Citizenship Act 1985 and
Population Census of 1988.
State Repressions led to
large scale exodus in 1989-93 to Nepal
Heightened Cold-War and foreign invasion :
Soviet intervention in Afghanistan 1979
and resulting prolonged civil strifes
Bombing and fighting, fear for life and
obstruction on livelihood :
Arming of rebel groups like the Mujahiddin
Huge Exodus of Afghans to Pakistan and Iran
SO REFUGEES ARE A
“PRODUCT OF EVERY CRISIS”
They are in various camps :
Teknaf-Cox‟s Bazar area in Bangladesh,
Jhapa in Eastern Nepal
Peshawar, Chitral and Quetta in Pakistan;
Tamil Nadu , Arunachal Pradesh, Tripura ,
Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka in India
India does not produce refugees of Mass exodus variety.
Trickle variety : also not very noticeable.
Very construction and nature of border
Entire South Asia region is India centric
Large Scale Internal Displacement
Religious discrimination, killings, lootings, extortions,
open call for social ostracisations and
physical expulsions :
Kashmiri Pandits in Kashmir valley of J &K
4,00,000 Kashmiri Pandits
(95 per cent of their original population)
have left Kashmir valley since 1990 .
Live in abysmal conditions in Jammu , Delhi and Mumbai
Similar emerging situations :
North East region of India
(Manipur, Nagaland, Meghalaya and Assam )
Left extremism and Maoist violence
Orissa, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar,
Jharkhand, Chattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh
Cost of Refugees to Host Countries
I Tamil Refugee induced Indian action in Sri Lanka
“IPKF Operation” of 1987-1990 was not only utter failure
Now considered as a major diplomatic misadventure.
Only strengthened LTTE.
Major fall out : dastardly killing of Rajiv Gandhi
in Tamil Nadu
Allegedly by the LTTE in May 1991 on
home ground of Tamil refugees
II Massive Deforestation in Nepal
Nepal : highest deforestation rate of 4 % in South Asia.
Large scale intrusion into forest areas for
both fuel and timber purpose. Protest and
clashes with the locals and authorities.
III Bangladesh : many Rohingya refugees
resisting repatriation .
They have joined right wing political groups
Serious law and order situation :
Nayapara and Kutupalong camps.
IV Staggering Cost of managing refugees.
UNHCR alone has spent over $ 1 billion : Pak. Programme.
Vital fall out : sharp rise : drug addicts in Pakistan
People involved : narcotics trade- Sharp increase
UN Drug Control Program Report :
50 percent of the World supply
80 percent of European supply of heroin
with a street value of $30-40 billion.
More serious :
Nexus between Politicians and Drug barons
Afghans came along 3 million heads of livestock
exhausted the grazing land in NWFP and Baluchistan
Pakistan infested with open arms bazar.
Afghan refugees injected “Kalashnikov Culture”
Worst : Afghan Mujahiddins- LTTE link spread
their pernicious designs in Kashmir
with Harka-tul-Ansar, Nagaland with NSCN
and Assam with ULFA
Kashmir (1988-97 recovery): 19000 AK-47 rifles,
5,500 anti-tank missiles, 29000 hand grenades.
VII The Plights of Returnees : Afghanistan :
Ultra conservative interpretation of Islam :
Harsh regulations imposed
by Taliban particularly on Women: Edicts :
No education for girls
No employment for women
No music, no kite flying,
Compulsory visits of Mosques on Friday
@ Harsh working conditions for
UN Agencies and other
humanitarian organisations : Even detained
European Commissioner for Humanitarian Affairs.
@ It has the largest collection of land mines
(over fifty varieties)
ICRC reported grazing land accounted for
75.6 % and agriculture land 20.2 %
of mine areas. So resettlement
is a Herculean task
•Integration programmes under UNHCR with
UNICEF, WFP, WHO and NGOs on skill development,
health care, education, rural infrastructure
& food for work.
Insecure : most of them not given citizenship by state.
So no entitlement to lands
which they previously owned.
Hill Watch Human Rights Forum (HWHRF)
Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord December 1997 :
all refugees returned.
Little improvement of the human rights situation in CHT.
Key provisions not implemented.
Only 29 camps out of about 500 military camps in CHTs
withdrawn since December 1997.
Army continues to commit human rights
violations against indigenous Jumma people.
No Real pressure on Bhutan
Re-examine refugee report: US
“ US government : concerned about absence
of guarantees provided to
Bhutanese refugees returning to their homeland”.
Bringing people from the North and settling
them down in the South & East
in places earlier owned by refugees.
UNHCR is facilitating the third country
Settlement of an overwhelming majority
Maoist party launched in Bhutan :
Situation Today in South Asia
Strong Protest and
Whenever host has felt intrusion
into its indigenousness
Hidden losers concept fast catching up
Situation at the Global Level
Clear cases : UNHCR and donor agencies :
withdrawing humanitarian support
to various refugee situations.
Afghan refugees : literally dismantling camps
And asking the refugees to live
Bhutanese refugees :
Emphasis on : Local Integration and
third country settlement
There is a pattern
Developing countries are talking about : millions
Developed countries are mentioning about
Taking few hundreds refugees
Securitisation and harmonization of refugee policy
How do we create a global community
When there is total rejection
Withdrawal from even human assistance
They construct a „global apartheid‟.
1995 : 30,000 refugees accepted by developed
countries as part of global resettlement
Resettlement: narrow prism of protection
Broader Perspective should be :
international burden sharing
Closing Down the Gates :
widespread automatic detention
of asylum seekers,
denial of social assistance
restriction on access to employment
practice of restrictive and disowning asylum policy
■ Restrictive visa policies and carrier sanctions
■ Demarcation of international zones in airports
■ Safety Zones within countries of conflict
■ Narrow interpretation of principle of
■ Safe third country concept
■ Offshore Camps : rights free zone :
Guantanamo Bay was used
by the US to hold Cuban and Haitan refugees
■ Internal Flight alternatives (IFA)
■ Regional conventions and Treaty
to restrict them collectively
The debate is about the
Movement of Natural persons under
World Trade Organisation :
Where is the debate about the forced migration
and responsibilities of
world community at large and
Developed countries in particular ?
Non-accession to International Refugee Instruments
Varying reasons : varies from
towards UN intervention,
perception of Convention being abused
by developed nations for their political ends
to question of ability to meet various obligations
due to economic constraints and also the perception
That these instruments being product of cold war.
Prefer dealing with refugee issues bilaterally.
Widely prevalent perception
states which have signed Convention :
are seen to be derogating from those
provisions whenever it suits their interests.
Absence of permanent institutional structure
to oversee issues of refugees,
grant of refugee status has been at
discretion of politi-cal authorities.
Rejected refugees on narrow political grounds.
Reduced status of fleeing humanities
to political arbitrariness.
Present situation calls for evolving a clear legal
framework for refugee management in South Asia.
Pakistan gives refugee status only to Afghans.
By not signing they are rejecting refugees
in narrow political grounds say
Tamils are taken as refugees depending upon
which party is there in power in Tamil Nadu.
Bhutan : India being first country of refuge
Did not accept
Violation of principle of non-refoulement,
Refugees were purely a local issue.
No constitutional provisions,
so Govts deal with refugees on an ad hoc basis
Refugees have been used as pawns
in regional geo-politics
But, if India signs, probably others will follow suit
Absence of a formal legal structure,
Courts particularly Supreme Court and
National Human Rights Commission (NHRC)
proactive and constructive roles
Regional level :
SAARC can play an instrumental role :
formulating a regional convention
on refugee management.
Like Organisation of African Unity (1969)
Cartegana Declaration (1984),
SAARC already has four conventions viz.,
Food Security Reserve (1987),
Suppression of Terrorism (1987)
Narcotic Drugs &
Psychotropic Substances (1993).
Trafficking of Women and Children
Lessons to be learnt
I Twenty years of fierce civil war and violence
a new generation of people has emerged
with very little education,
strong weapons training and
no memory of life in a peaceful State
Distinct failure of State
Irreversible process of social disintegration
Recent : US led retaliation in Afghanistan
This time its not Soviet Union
US is fighting its own covert or overt creation
Challenge is complex and Goal not clearly defined
Impact on hapless refugees : dangerously poised :
Between human miseries and blatant violations
of even simple human rights
and total disintegration of tribalism
Handling and interventions on
refugee situation demands
comprehensive policy and neutral stands.
Politico-military goals should be marginalised.
Unlike last two decades where
Refugees were made
i) instrument of politics,
ii) cause for arms supply and
iii) vehicles of drugs trafficking and
iv) used as resistance group,
This time it requires a long term thinking
and prolonged reconstruction
effort in Afghanistan.
Failure to do so will only generate
a fresh set of alliances and alignments
against “partnership of retaliation”.
This will be more vicious and
spiteful than last round.
II Foremost : unbiased understanding
and objective assessment
of a refugee situation.
A total management of refugees :
implies political management
to ensure repatriation and resettlement.
One cannot leave entire process
of refugee generation,
management and resolution half way through.
This is most shattering lesson
we have to learn.
III Politicization of refugees in camp sites
are very deleterious
Once politicised, process of
depoliticisation is almost impossible
Enormous violent resistance
from within and outside camps.
fragmentation of refugee population
Leads to weakening of community
living and collective voice.
Country of origin takes full
manipulative advantage and political mileage
E.g Lhotsampas refugees from Bhutan.
IV If refugees : forced to remain in camps
for a prolonged period of time
With suffocating conditions
e.g. restrictions on physical movements
Young generation that grow up
new generation that emerge in refugee camps
become a direct victim of protracted
human rights violations.
Process of isolation,
limited social contacts and
total delinking from their roots
make them vulnerable to any alternative option
where they can get more open space.
Invariably, options available or provided
are anti-state and violent.
Refugee community and their helplessness
come into direct clash with forces
that they think are responsible for their plights.
V International mobilization of resources
both physical and financial
for management of refugees should be done
Severe burden on host country
Needs to be looked into from all perspectives
Particularly when host country has never managed
refugee influx of such a huge magnitude
and diverse variety.
Actually sheer sense of physical burden
and a feeling of intrusion that ultimately weigh
against continuous hosting of refugees
Even on pure humanitarian grounds.
Pakistan remained one of most generous hosts
Have literally closed its gate in last couple of years.
Besides security implications,
primary reason for such
an action was again
both „compassion‟ and „aid‟ fatigues.
VI South Asia : invariably State or
Create situations triggering massive exodus of people
Afghanistan : Surviving super power US also quit
refugee camps as soon as its „national interest‟ was met.
This action fully exposed facade of :
“genuine concerns for Afghan people”
“reconstruction of Afghanistan” ,
“repatriation and rehabilitation of refugees”
Had it not been ghastly event of 11 September,
US would have possibly permanently disengaged itself
VII Larger question that arise again is responsibility
and accountability of super power (s)
in terms of :
first creating a situation of humanitarian concern
and management and resettlement of affected mass.
Where is implementation of international norm
that check such “unilateral attitude”
and “devastating action” all in name of
pursuing goal of national interest ?
Where is that international body and
agency that could book
countries that are responsible for
generation of a millions of refugee ?
Unless we find answer to these questions,
South Asia will continue to be host of millions of refugees
as compared to “chosen few thousands”
in West and North.
Mere ratification of 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol by
West and North could hardly ensure
their responsibility and accountability.
This has only made all encompassing international norms
a matter of convenience to a large
extent a super power led farce.
Reforms , Liberalisation, Privatisation, Globalisation :
key words today :
Emphasise about increasing demolitions
of borders and barriers.
National security considerations and other
terrorism, migration, trafficking of drugs,
arms and women and girl children,
demand increasing border regulations and
closing down of borders.
India and Nepal :
traditionally an open border regime,
First time : increasingly regulated
because of movement of Maoists forces
and elements of terrorism.
This is likely to be the case with
India- Bhutan border
Likely increase in clashes between
forces of globalization
and the countervailing State forces
Expectation : Globalisation will lead
to higher economic growth
and reduce poverty and mitigate human miseries
It is not happening
Number of people below poverty line
have sharply increased
Inequality of income has further widened.
Poverty clusters :
distinct spatial and demographic identity
clashes and conflicts are inevitable.
Major pockets of conflicts emerging
3 Maoists movement in Nepal :
Large scale movement of people to India
and other countries
4 Bangladesh : State vs State
Bangladesh : Migrants
serious clashes in Assam
Three Layers of Conflicts
state vs state conflicts
state vs group conflicts
group vs group conflicts
Many other regions of the World
Governments lack administrative,
military, legal, institutional,
or political capacity to
Handle the situations
How prepared is the
global community ?
How committed is the
global governance system ?