Legality of Refugees: Rohingyas and Bru Tribe

Harshita Raju, Delhi Metropolitan Education, Noida


Convention of the year 1951 and the additional protocol to that convention in the year 1967 came specifically in relation to the refugees. This convention was signed by various nations, but India never became a party to the convention, nor does it have any legal regime discussing the legal status of refugees in India. Lack of recognition in relation to the refugees and migrants in India has led to the absence of legal definition as to who is called or considered to be a refugee.

India is considered to have the largest refugee population in the whole world but still, it does not have any regulation or policy governing the refugees and migrants in its own nation. As per the UN convention of 1951 relating to the refugees define the terminology refugee as “someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.”

Even though India is not the signatory of the UNHCR convention for refugees 1951 but it has still given some protection to the refugees by providing asylums for them who belong and came from the neighbouring nations. Also, under Indian law, the expression ‘foreigner’ is considered as aliens and this terminology covers a vast number of categories: the immigrants, tourists and refugees. Not only this but also the Indian constitution has helped to protect the status and living of the refugees living in India.

The most recent discussions going about relating to the refugees in India are the Rohingya refugees and the Bru Tribe refugees of Tripura. Rohingyas are the world's most oppressed ethnic minority reported by the United Nations. They are a group of Burmese Muslim citizens from Myanmar's Rakhine state on the western coast of Myanmar adjacent to the Indian Ocean's Bay of Bengal. Throughout Myanmar, the Buddhist and other groups classify them as "illegal immigrants." Over the past few decades, Rohingyas have faced continuous persecution, prejudice, cruel treatment, mass execution, discrimination and statelessness. Faced with various ethnic cleansing in Myanmar, Rohingyas have edged to various regions around the world including India as one of the countries. The Bru Tribe of Tripura from Mizoram is the second and most recent type of refugee being discussed for its legality. In the year of 1997 due to the huge conflict and violence between the Mizo’s around 40,000 people belonging to the Bru tribe, also known as the Reang tribe left Mizoram. They all after fleeing from Mizoram came to the Northern Tripura, where they started to live in relief camps and are still continuing to live there since that time.


Rohingya refugees are the Muslims of Myanmar who fled to different parts of the world in the year 2012 and also entered India after they were mistreated by the people of Myanmar like being falsely accused and forcing them to evict their homes. Which led the Rohingyas to suddenly leave Myanmar and reside on different land by way of sea travel. Around thousands of Rohingya Muslims who entered India from the northeastern route and spread in various state camps like in Jammu & Kashmir, Assam, West Bengal, Delhi, Kerala, Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh. Now the population has increased to 40,000.

Why does the Indian government want to deport the Rohingyas?

After the huge rise in the population of Rohingya Muslims in India, the government of India in the year 2017 came to a concern of the threat relating to state and national security and decided to deport the Rohingya population back to Myanmar. India is not a signatory to the UN Convention for Refugees nor does it have any national law regarding the refugees of India. But it does fall under the Foreign Act of 1946, which clearly states that if there is a person living in India without legal residing documents then that person has committed a crime.

International support to Protect Refugees

Even though India is not the part of the refugee’s UN convection but it is still the part of other various treaties. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 (UDHR) under Article 14, asserts that all have the right to seek and enjoy asylum from genocide and persecution in other parts of the world. There are also various other conventions and treaties who have recognised this said principle, and India is a signatory of them. Such as the International Covenant on Human Rights and Civil Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Elimination of Racial Discrimination (ICERD). But the principle of Article 14 of the UDHR has been recognised by them indirectly.


In the year 1996, a case came under the Supreme Court of India, which clearly stated in its judgment that non-citizens of India here known as the asylum seekers come under the purview of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. Article 21 of the Constitution of India is not rigid and restricted to only the Indian citizens, it includes foreigners and asylum seekers as well. This article protects them and gives them the right that no one can deprive them to live his life and with personal liberty except in accordance with a fair and reasonable procedure by law.

In 2013 a petition was filed under the High Court of Delhi by two refugees from Myanmar who were living in India since 2009 & 2011 with a long term visa. They were about to get deported as their re-application for a visa was rejected on grounds that they were convicted under the Narcotics Act. They prayed to the hon'ble court that they should take sympathy and pity by directing the government authority to not deport them to their country(Myanmar) and to reconsider their application for a long term visa. After due consideration and taking every fact & situation in mind, the court held to put stay on their deportation. And stated that “since the petitioners apprehend danger to their lives on return to their country, it would be proper and in keeping with the golden traditions of this country in respecting international comity and according to good treatment to refugees for the government to hear the refugees and consult UNHCR regarding the option of deportation to a third country, before taking a final decision. And with reference to the 1996 case, it also stated that ‘even if we don't take international perspective in mind, still this deportation will lead to violation of the Indian Constitution, which is a grave injustice and mistake of law.’

The Indian Ministry of State and Home Affairs in the month of August 2017 said that they are planning to deport all the Rohingyas as they are a threat to national security and termed as ‘illegal immigrants’. After this one-sided decision of the government, a petition was filed under the Supreme Court of India stating that the decision violates the Indian constitution Article 14,21 and 51(c) and to ask whether the union has the right to deport the Rohingya refugees back to Myanmar, where they were wrongly persecuted and to challenge the said decision of deportation. This petition also states that the said act by the government not only violates the Constitution of India but also contradicts the principle under Customary International law of ‘Non-Refoulement’. In between the ongoing petition hearing in October 2018, Seven Rohingya Refugees were deported to the native and the plea of no deportation of them was rejected by the Supreme Court of India.

Current status of the above case is that the Supreme court will have the final hearing in the month of August 2020. The bench has asked the counsel of parties to submit their written submission meanwhile.


The refugees named as Bru came to India and scattered in different state locations like Tripura and Assam’s south part. Majority of the Hindu Bru’s among the whole tribe were either residing in Assam or Tripura. The Bru’s of Mizoram after ethnic violence fled and came to Tripura. Among them, the majority of Bru’s were converted to Christianity while living in Mizo and were around 40,000 in population, who left Mizoram and took shelter in Tripura in 6 relief camps. Recognised as the PVTG (Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group)


Various efforts were made by the central and the state government to repatriate the Bru tribe of Tripura. They took around nine attempts to relocate them back to their native Mizoram. These efforts have been made since the year 2010. The year of 2010 was the year of the first attempt for repatriation of Bru's, where around 8,573 Bru’s were sent back to Mizoram. And this action led to various protests by various Mizo NGOs etc. Bru’s started to demand relief and the centre agreed with the demand but the final package of relief in July 2018 for rehabilitation failed. When the government gave the Bru refugees a choice to either leave Tripura and go back to Mizoram or face the relief camps harsh environment and treatment. If after the deadline the majority of the Bru’s decided to live and leave and demanded to resettle together as a close-knit family and also asked that a separate autonomous council shall be made in Mizoram for them.

After 23 years of conflicts arose because of the illegal entry of the Bru refugees of Tripura (1997) from Mizoram, an agreement was made for the said solution of conflicts. This agreement was then signed by all the parties to the dispute, the Bru leaders of Tripura, the government of India, Mizoram and Tripura in January 2020. Agreement main characteristic was that the Bru refugees will have a choice to live in either of the above states mentioned and they can live there permanently.


  1. Only those Bru's who are currently residing in Tripura in temporary relief camps can choose to live there and settle there permanently if they want. The Bru's, who have relocated back to Mizoram throughout the eight repatriation cycles since the year 2009, can not return back to Tripura, though.

  2. There will be 12 resettlement locations for the refugees as decided by the government of India with 600 cr. funding support for around 32,000 Bru refugees.

  3. The fresh survey will be conducted for better carrying out of the relief camps.

  4. Every Bru family will receive 0.03 acre of land for home structuring and additional 1.5 lacs for house assistance and another 4 lacs cash benefit for one time. After that every month they will receive Rs.5000 as allowance and free ration for two years from the date of settlement.

  5. The state govt. will also make it happen that every Bru refugee will get to open bank accounts, valid aadhaar-card, residence certificate as permanent, voter id and ST certificates as beneficiaries.








  • LinkedIn
  • Facebook
  • YouTube
  • Instagram