Refugees in India

Tibetan Refugee Self Help Center Darjeeling in West Bengal

Refugees in India refers to the history of refugees in India. The country has seen large influx of refugee populations throughout history.

Refugees from Greater Iran

According to Zoroastrian legend (see Qissa-i Sanjan), a few centuries after the conquest of the Sassanid state and the subsequent collapse of Zoroastrianism as a state-sponsored religion, at least one group of Zoroastrians eventually migrated to what is now the Indian state of Gujarat to maintain their Zoroastrian religious tradition.[1] Although this 16th/17th century legend is taken at face value by the majority of the Parsis, persecution was not yet a significant issue at the time of migration (11th century at the latest). Given that the same legend observes that they migrated from Sanjan (in present-day Turkmenistan), the decline of silk road trade in favour of sea-route trade makes it equally likely that their immigration was economically motivated. For details, see Parsi history.

Although isolated groups of Zoroastrians may be presumed to have immigrated between the 12th and 16th centuries, due to persecution (for instance, the Mughal emperor Akbar encouraged relocation of skilled Iranians—irrespective of their religion). Immigration of Zoroastrians for socio-religious reasons is only again documented during Iran's Qajar era (1794–1925) when persecution of non-Muslims was rampant and by which time the Indian Zoroastrians had established special funds to assist their Iranian co-religionists. The descendants of these newer immigrants are known as Iranis.

Partition of India

Massive population exchanges occurred between the two newly formed nations in the months immediately following Partition. Once the lines were established, about 14.5 million people crossed the borders to what they hoped was the relative safety of religious majority. Based on 1951 Census of displaced persons, 7.226 million Muslims went to Pakistan from India while 7.249 million Hindus and Sikhs (and very small amounts of Muslims) were forced to move to India from Pakistan immediately after partition. About 11.2 million or 78% of the population transfer was on the west, with Punjab accounting for most of it; 5.3 million Muslims moved from India to West Punjab in Pakistan, 3.4 million Hindus and Sikhs were moved from Pakistan to East Punjab in India; elsewhere in the west 1.2 million moved in each direction to and from Sind. The initial population transfer on the east involved 3.5 million Hindus moving from East Bengal to India and only 0.7 million Muslims moving the other way.

Tibetan refugees

A Tibetan Lady in Indian Refugee Camp

Following in the footsteps of the 14th Dalai Lama more than 150,000 Tibetan refugees have fled to India during the past 50 years. He left with his initial entourage in 1959, following an abortive uprising of disputed motivations. He was followed by about 80,000 Tibetan refugees. Jawaharlal Nehru agreed to provide all assistance to the Tibetan refugees to settle in India until their eventual return). 120,000 refugees remain in India today. The Tibetan diaspora maintains a government in exile in Himachal Pradesh, which coordinates political activities for Tibetans in India. The Tibetan government-in-exile functions from McLeodGanj, a sleepy little town in Dharamshala.

In 1960, the Government of Mysore (as Karnataka state was called at that time) allotted nearly 3,000 acres (12 km2) of land at Bylakuppe in Mysore district in Karnataka and the first ever Tibetan exile settlement, Lugsung Samdupling came into existence in 1961. A few years later another settlement, Tibetan Dickey Larsoe, also called TDL, was established. This was followed by the establishment of three more settlements in Karnataka state making it the state with the largest Tibetan refugee population. Rabgayling settlement was created in Gurupura village near Hunsur, Dhondenling was established at Oderapalya near Kollegal and Doeguling settlement came into being at Mundgod in Uttara Kannada district, all in Karnataka. The Bir Tibetan Colony was established in Bir, Himachal Pradesh. Other states have provided land for Tibetan refugees.

The Government of India built special schools for Tibetans that provide free education, health care and scholarships for those students who excel in school. There are a few medical and civil engineering seats reserved for Tibetans. Tibetans live in India with a stay permit which is processed through a document called Registration Certificate (RC). It is renewed every year, or half-year in some areas. Every Tibetan refugee above the age of 16 must register for the stay permit. RCs are not issued to new arrival refugees. The Indian Government also issues "Yellow Books" after one years' processing with a RC, which allow Tibetans to travel abroad which is an Identity Certificate.

Refugees from Bangladesh

During the Bangladesh Liberation War, the Bangladesh-India border was opened to allow Bengalis fleeing genocide by the Pakistan Army's SSG units safe shelter in India. The state governments of India, such as West Bengal, Assam, Meghalaya and Tripura established refugee camps along the border. As the massacres in Bangladesh escalated an estimated 10 million refugees fled to India causing financial hardship and instability in Bangladesh due to 1971 Bangladesh genocides and as well as regional conflicts in the north-eastern states.

Afghan refugees

More than 60,000 Afghan refugees came to India in the years following the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The Indian government does not officially recognise them as refugees, but has allowed the UNHCR to operate a programme for them.[2]

Sri Lankan Tamil people

There are more than 100,000 Sri Lankan Tamils in India, most of whom migrated during the rise of militancy in Sri Lanka. Most Sri Lankans are settled only in refugee camps in Tamil Nadu. Chennai, Tiruchirappalli, Coimbatore and Bangalore have significant Sri Lankan Tamil populations.

Rohingya people

Rohingya people are ethnic Muslims of Rakhine province of Mayanmar. Rohingyas have been declared as the most persecuted ethnic group in the world by the UNHCR. India hosts a significant number of Rohingyas in Delhi, Hyderabad, Kashmir, West Bengal and North-east India. The Indian government does not officially recognise them as refugees, but has allowed the UNHCR to operate a programme for them.


  1. ^ "Desh Pardesh: The South Asian Presence in Britain", p. 252, by Roger Ballard
  2. ^ A band born out of hope 4 August 2011

External links

  • Walking on the Sky: A Tibetan Refugee's Himalayan Escape
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