A survey to map how refugees are perceived across the world points to a glaring paradox among Indians, who feel strongly about helping victims of war and persecution but oppose the opening of borders to refugees.
While 65 per cent of Indians want victims of war and persecution to be given refuge and shelter in India and other countries, about 64 per cent are averse to the mass influx of refugees, a survey by Ipsos of 24 countries reveals.
Argentina tops the list, with 74 per cent people favouring helping victims of war and persecution, followed by Chile and Great Britain. Interestingly, the sentiment that the country should close its borders to refugees is the strongest among Indians and lowest in Japan, where only 27 per cent said they were opposed to taking in refugees.
Known for its tight immigration policy, the Japan government has recently said it would consider accepting more Asian refugees from 2020. In 2017, the country accepted only 20 of about 20,000 people who applied for refugee status.
India has traditionally adhered to the policy of non-refoulement and has been a welcoming host nation despite being neither a signatory to the 1951 refugees convention nor having a domestic law for refugees.
“This dilemma stems from India having to grapple with uninhibited exodus into the Eastern border, which has been a strain on the resources. Earlier on, even faced it in the Southern borders. At the same time, Indians have firmly stood with those victimized and have displayed their philanthropic side, when there have been glaring problems,” said Parijat Chakraborty, Country Service Line Leader, Public Affairs, Customer Experience and Corporate Reputation, Ipsos India.
The debate over refugees gained national prominence last year after 40,000 Rohingya Muslims escaped Myanmar to take shelter in India. However, India has categorized the Rohingya as illegal immigrants and a security threat. The Narendra Modi government has, in fact, appealed to Myanmar to take back the Rohingya refugees.
However, there has been a marginal dip in Indians who are sceptical that refugees’ claims are genuine – from 71 per cent in 2017 to 70 per cent in the recent survey.
About 70 per cent of Indians feel that the mass influx of refugees is mostly for economic reasons and most of them are poverty stricken and want to avail the welfare schemes in India. They also had a strong sentiment over whether refugees would integrate successfully in their society, with 68 per cent believing they would do so compared to 23 per cent who did not.