Introduction of country context
- This India case study report is part of the global evaluation of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) livelihood strategy. The centralized evaluation was commissioned by the UNHCR Evaluation Service and independently conducted by Technical Assistance to Non-Governmental Organizations (TANGO) International. The overarching purpose of this evaluation is to gather strategic and timely evidence on the effectiveness of refugee livelihoods programming from 2014-2018. The evaluation will inform organizational strategy and practice within UNHCR and external to UNHCR with partners, aiming to improve the economic inclusion of refugees and other people of concern (PoC). See the full evaluation report for the overall findings and recommendations.
- Social, political, and economic context: As the largest democracy in the world and a rising economic powerhouse, India has emerged as an important regional power. India’s gross domestic product growth for fiscal year 2017/18 is expected at 7 per cent. Poverty has been on the decline since 2004, but the pace of poverty reduction has slowed due to national economic challenges such as demonetization, a 2016 policy that invalidated 500- and 1,000-Indian rupee banknotes in an effort to reduce illegal activities such as tax evasion. The policy is estimated to have reduced national economic growth by one per cent and the number of jobs by 1.5 million. This has negatively impacted refugees, most of whom work in the informal sector and receive daily wages in cash.
- India’s rapid economic growth and development in past decades have fuelled urbanisation and the growth of mega-cities. People from across India and other developing countries flocked to cities and urban areas in search of greater work opportunities and better living standards. Work opportunities in the informal sector are more accessible for Indian nationals and refugees. In 2011-2012, 82.2 per cent of workers in India were in informal employment (down from 86.3 per cent in 2004-2005). Different refugee groups engage in different types of work. Rohingya refugees tend to work in extremely exploitative and marginalized sectors (i.e., construction work, rag picking and unskilled factory work).Afghan refugees tend to have average to good education and expect to find skilled jobs; however, in Delhi they tend to be under-employed because their qualifications do not transfer to Indian equivalents, and the work is often temporary and informal. India ranks 130th out of 189 countries with a human development index value of 0.64, which indicates medium human development. 8 Regarding progress toward Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),
India ranks 112th out of 156 countries and has an SDG Index score of 59.1, indicating that India is about 59 per cent of the way toward the best possible SDG outcomes.India has the third largest achievement gap for SDG 1 (No Poverty), though it is showing a positive trend. India scored quite low in 9 out of 17 SDGs, the lowest of which are SDG 2: Zero Hunger, SDG 5: Gender Equality, and SDG 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure.
- Country-specific refugee policies and legal frameworks: India is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol, nor does it have a national refugee law. Despite this, India was hospitable to refugees and asylum seekers for decades, and administrative practices towards asylum seekers and refugees were largely consistent with international human rights obligations. The government continues to assist Tibetans and Sri Lankan refugees who have access to its social welfare schemes. For other nationalities, mainly from Afghanistan and Myanmar, UNHCR registers and conducts refugee status determination for asylum seekers under its mandate. In 2011, the government introduced the Long Term Visas (LTV) and Stay Visa policy initiative for refugees registered with UNHCR.
- However, since late 2016, maintaining the protection environment for refugees has become challenging. In November 2016, following statements from Myanmar’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi,
India’s prime minister denounced all Rohingya refugees as “illegal migrants.” Then in August 2017, the Indian government issued an advisory, which directed States to identify and deport illegal immigrants including Rohingya Muslims living in India. The advisory impacted all PoC. Rohingya refugees were confronted with socio-economic and employment challenges as a result of the government labelling them “illegal.” Some employers previously willing to hire Rohingya refugees began having second thoughts as they were unwilling to risk investigation and sanction by Indian authorities. The advisory also resulted in a wave of anti-Rohingya/refugee sentiment, and the overall protection space for PoC shrank dramatically. Some PoC were deported, and the Rohingya in India received a lot of negative media attention. Due to a moratorium on new LTVs, the vast majority of UNHCR-mandate refugees do not possess valid LTVs; new LTVs for Rohingya have stopped altogether. The 2017 advisory and the presence of Rohingya are the subject of many petitions before the Supreme Court.
- PoC have limited access to basic public health care, primary and secondary education, and birth registration and certificates. However, unlike Indian nationals, refugees do not have access to India’s expanding social protection system available to the urban poor. Language barriers, bureaucratic hurdles and lack of information and documentation restrict access to already overstretched facilities. Additionally, the government’s increased emphasis on limiting cash transactions (i.e., demonetization described above) has negatively impacted refugees, as they lack documents required to open bank accounts to receive electronic money transfers. The Indian government is digitizing many of its services and has been issuing a Unique Identification Number called Aadhaar card. Although the Supreme Court ruled in 2018 that the Aadhaar card is not mandatory to open a bank account, the government is linking its services to Aadhaar cards. This may continue to restrict PoC access to government services, as the law about Aadhaar cards is vague about whether or not refugee certificates are valid in the application process, which creates confusion and varying interpretations of the law—some applicants successfully receive an Aadhaar card using a refugee certificate while others do not. Moreover, some refugees who receive a card face scepticism about its legitimacy.
- Refugee context: India represents a context with a large population of urban-based refugees mostly active in the informal sector. As of August 2018, among populations of concern to UNHCR, the Country Office (CO) had registered 27,441 refugees from 28 countries and 11,631 asylum seekers from 40 countries. The largest numbers of PoC are from Afghanistan, Myanmar, Yemen, Somalia and Iraq. Refugees registered with UNHCR mainly reside in Delhi, Jammu and Hyderabad. In 2014, 25 per cent of Rohingya, 13 per cent of Somalis, 7 per cent of Chin, and 1 per cent Afghan households in Delhi were extremely poor. In the same time period, almost all Rohingya (94 per cent) in Delhi were extremely poor or poor.
- Livelihoods programme background: The UNHCR India livelihood programme is guided by the country-level Livelihood Strategy 2015-2018, and a draft livelihoods strategy is currently under development for 2019-2022. The objective of the livelihood programme is to improve refugee households’ socio-economic self-reliance and integration by reinforcing and developing their capacities and assets, and to enhance access to employment and self-employment opportunities. Key livelihood activities included: providing skills and vocational training (e.g., life skills education, financial literacy, and vocational training) through the creation of occupational groups, apprenticeships/ traineeship programmes, entrepreneurship training and small business start-up grants. The livelihoods budget Operating Level declined from about US$ 376,000 in 2015 to just over US$ 169,000 in 2018 (Figure 1).