Unravelling India's Citizenship Act: Implications for Refugees and Why Europe Should Care

India's Citizenship Act's potential human rights violation warrants European attention and action towards refugee protection.

7/28/20232 min read

five human hands on brown surface
five human hands on brown surface

India, known for its rich cultural diversity and pluralistic society, has recently been at the centre of a contentious issue: the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 (CAA). The impact of the CAA, particularly on the vulnerable refugee population, raises important questions regarding human rights, a matter of global concern that is of direct interest to Europe, with its long-standing commitment to human rights protection.

The Citizenship Amendment Act was passed by the Indian Parliament in December 2019. In essence, the CAA provides a pathway to Indian citizenship for refugees from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh, but only for those belonging to specific religious minorities - Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, and Christian - who have entered India before 31st December 2014. Notably, the Act excludes Muslims.

The CAA's implementation falls under the purview of the Ministry of Home Affairs, which is responsible for maintaining India's internal security and domestic policy. The Ministry has faced criticism both domestically and internationally for its enforcement of the CAA, perceived as discriminatory and potentially violating human rights norms.

The primary concern is that the CAA may violate the principle of non-refoulement, a fundamental tenet of international refugee law that prohibits the return of individuals to a place where they may face persecution. Critics argue that by excluding Muslim refugees from the provisions of the CAA, India risks sending back individuals to situations where their lives or freedom could be threatened.

Moreover, the Act's religious criterion for citizenship has been contentious, with allegations that it undermines the secular principles of the Indian constitution and potentially infringes upon the right to equality. Given these issues, there is a heightened need for accountability in how the Home Affairs ministry enforces this act and manages its implications for the refugee population in India.

So why should Europe care about the Citizenship Amendment Act in India?

Firstly, any potential breach of international human rights law is of global concern. Europe has consistently been a stalwart advocate for human rights, and this issue demands attention and engagement. The CAA's potential violation of the non-refoulement principle directly contradicts the spirit of international refugee protection that European nations strongly uphold.

Secondly, Europe and India share robust political, economic, and strategic relationships. Any social instability in India, one of the world's most populous democracies, could have ripple effects on European interests in the region.

Thirdly, Europe can play a significant role in influencing change. European governments, journalists, and human rights organizations can draw attention to the situation and apply diplomatic pressure to uphold universal human rights principles.

Lastly, the refugee crisis is a global issue that necessitates international cooperation. Europe's experience with managing the refugee situation, especially in light of the Syrian crisis, could offer valuable insights and collaborations for India. Furthermore, demonstrating concern for the refugee situation in India aligns with Europe's humanitarian commitment and could inspire other nations to take responsibility as well.

In conclusion, the CAA in India presents a significant human rights concern, particularly for its impact on refugees. The role of the Ministry of Home Affairs in enforcing the Act is under scrutiny, and the international community must vigilantly monitor the situation. For Europe, with its vested interest in human rights protection and strong ties with India, understanding and engaging with this issue is more than just a matter of global solidarity; it's a strategic necessity and a moral imperative.

At the Human Rights Index, we implore European journalists, government officials, and civil society to raise awareness about this issue and push for fair and non-discriminatory treatment of all refugees. It is through such global concerted efforts that we can uphold the principles of human rights and dignity for all.