India has been a land of refuge for the persecuted; hosted millions who fled persecution by Pakistan in 1971, says envoy at UNSC

Emphasizing India's commitment to the humanitarian protection of refugees, TS Tirumurti, Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations, on Tuesday said when then West Pakistan unleashed genocide on East Pakistan in 1971, India hosted millions of refugees and saved them from the massacre by the Pakistan Army

Arul Louis Dec 08, 2021
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T S Tirumurti, Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations (Photo: Twitter)

Emphasizing India's commitment to the humanitarian protection of refugees, TS Tirumurti, Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations, on Tuesday said when then West Pakistan unleashed genocide on East Pakistan in 1971, India hosted millions of refugees and saved them from the massacre by the Pakistan Army.

Speaking at the UN Security Council briefing by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Tirumurti said, "In contemporary history, India's hospitality, and assistance for refugee communities from the neighbouring countries is well recorded and appreciated. Be it the Tibetans or our brothers and sisters from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Myanmar, India has always responded with compassion and understanding. 

When West Pakistan unleashed genocide on East Pakistan, India hosted millions of refugees and saved them from the massacres," he said. 

He said India's humanitarian response to the refugee issue from Bangladesh was one of the most sophisticated and empathetic in contemporary history.

"This may well have represented one of the first instances of the UN's concept of the 'Responsibility to Protect'. If judged by today's standards of human rights and international humanitarian law, the perpetrators should have received a drastically different fate," Tirumurti said.

The envoy pointed out that throughout history, India has been a land of refuge to those who have faced persecution in foreign lands.

"India's humanitarian response to the refugee issue, particularly those facing persecution, has always been driven by the ideals of compassion and empathy. Zoroastrians and Jews, when faced with persecution centuries ago, found a ready home in India. If not for India, the Zorastraian faith may not have survived. Now, both are very much part of India's proud pluralist culture and heritage," he stated.

The Indian Ambassador emphasised that in current times, India is host to a large number of refugees and the programmes to assist them are managed entirely from the country's own resources.

He said India is committed to facilitating a dignified, safe and sustainable return of refugees to their homelands.

Mr Tirumurti further said, "India assists refugees elsewhere as well notably through partnering UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for the Palestine Refugees in the Near East since long. India continues to remain supportive of UNRWA's role in human development and delivery of humanitarian services. We have enhanced our contribution further in recent years."

 He apprised India's concern on the surge of the number of refugees and internally displaced persons under the mandate of UNHCR that reached over 91 million people.

Ambassador Tirumurti said preventing armed conflicts, countering terrorism, building and sustaining peace through facilitating sustainable development and good governance will prevent people from being forced to leave their homelands.

"We cannot have States following policies which exacerbate conflicts on the one hand and then refusing to tackle refugee influx on the other. The primary duty and responsibility of protecting and assisting IDPs is that of the states concerned. International action should remain within the bounds of the concept of sovereignty, which should not be diluted in any manner. Such action should, therefore, only be at the request of the country concerned," he said.

Tirumurti underlined that the refugee issue is a global challenge and no country alone can resolve this issue.

"We firmly believe that the principles of humanity, impartiality and neutrality must be upheld in dealing with refugee matters. This is crucial to maintain the credibility of the international refugee protection mechanism. The Member States and UNHCR must remain committed to the purposes and principles of the UN Charter and avoid politicization of the humanitarian work," he said.

Tirumurti said the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing humanitarian challenges and refugees are majorly exposed to the socioeconomic impact of this crisis.

"India remains committed to the humanitarian protection of refugees. We also believe that this humanitarian endeavour must be consistent with welfare objectives and national security. We strongly believe that determined action, solidarity and multilateralism are more needed than ever to address the refugee issue," he added.

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