India’s unique culture and ancient history have sheltered many for millennia. Afghan migrants have flooded India for decades due to the war in their homeland. Even when the nation’s spirit is right, legal and administrative responses are often insufficient.
Afghan refugees have sought asylum in India since the 1980s from violence and turmoil in Afghanistan. The UNHCR reports that approximately 19,000 Afghan refugees live in India, although only 11,000 are asylum-seekers. This shows how hard it is for many Afghans to get official recognition and privileges. This amount does not include the 13,000 Afghan students and military trainees who were trapped in India beyond 2021 owing to legal uncertainty.
As soon as the Taliban took power in Afghanistan in 2021, Afghans fled in droves. India provide emergency visas to Afghans in response to this humanitarian disaster. However, this measure had restrictions. These six-month visas have harsh limitations, including no schooling or work in India. These constraints exacerbated the Afghan refugees’ precarious situation, leaving them with insecurity and limited means to reconstruct their lives. In addition, despite the fact that 60,000 Afghans preferred asylum in India following the Taliban takeover, only 200 e-visas were issued by December 2021. The majority of these visas were granted to Hindus and Sikhs from Afghanistan, indicating possible religious discrimination in the selection process.
The Foreigners Act of 1946 and the Citizenship Act of 1955 regulate the way in which India treats Afghan refugees. This presents a fundamental difficulty. There is no distinction between economic migrants and those escaping war, violence, or persecution under these laws. In the absence of a clear distinction, those in urgent need lack targeted support and protection. By classifying Afghan refugees and asylum-seekers as “illegal migrants” under the Foreigners Act of 1946, India denies them access to essential social services and protection against refoulement (forced return to their country of origin, where they may face persecution). This legal position places thousands of Afghans in a precarious position, frequently resulting in socioeconomic difficulties.
Numerous Afghans who have lived in India for more than a decade continue to encounter significant obstacles. They exist on the periphery of society because they lack a stable source of income, access to education, and health care. Born and reared in India, the newer generation has limited opportunities for integration and advancement.
In contrast to India, Pakistan grants Afghan nationals refugee status despite not being a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention. This designation grants them access to fundamental social services, such as education and health care. Such provisions highlight the significance of a well-defined and empathetic refugee policy, which can considerably enhance the lives of those seeking asylum.
Recent UNHCR statistics, cited by the International Journal of Creative Research Thought (IJCRT) in 2023, portray a bleak picture of the difficulties Afghan refugees in India confront. Education is essential to human development, but only about 25 percent of Afghan refugee children in India have access to institutions. The recent closure of the “Sayed Jamaluddin Afghan School” in Bhogal, which served more than 200 Afghan refugee children, is illustrative of the educational challenges faced by this community. Lack of funds and the perceived indifference of the Delhi government towards Afghans have been cited as reasons for the closure, further denying these children their right to an education.
Although employment can provide exiles with a semblance of stability, only about 20% of Afghan refugees in India are employed. Many of these individuals are bound in low-paying, insecure jobs, scarcely able to support their families. The majority of Afghan refugees residing in India face persistent economic hardship.
Healthcare, a fundamental human right, continues to elude over 50 percent of Afghan refugees in India. The lack of access to healthcare services can exacerbate existing health issues and lead to the proliferation of preventable diseases, especially when combined with the unhygienic living conditions many Afghans endure.
Many Afghan citizens in India reside in conditions that are far from ideal. Access to clean water and sanitation, essential for healthy living, is often unavailable. Living in such conditions poses serious health risks and further marginalizes the Afghan community. In addition to these challenges, Afghan refugees also confront discrimination and harassment based on their ethnicity, religion, and language. Such discrimination can have profound psychological impacts, making integration into Indian society even more challenging.
India’s decision to revoke the visas of Afghan students, despite the reliance of thousands on Indian universities for their education, has raised eyebrows. Such policy decisions can have long-term implications, affecting the futures of many young Afghans. Furthermore, there seems to be a contradiction in India’s stance. While the BJP-led government’s policies have been criticized for being anti-Muslim, Afghanistan identifies itself as an Islamic Emirate. This ideological divergence further complicates the relationship between the two nations.
The Afghan refugee situation in India is a multifaceted issue that requires urgent attention. Addressing the challenges faced by this community goes beyond humanitarian aid; it calls for a comprehensive approach that respects the rights and dignity of Afghan refugees. It’s essential for India to reassess its policies and provide the necessary support to ensure that Afghan refugees can lead a life of dignity and hope in their adopted homeland.