As hopes of return dim, Afghans in India demand refugee status

India is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention or the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees.

Afghans protest outside the UNHCR, urging the world to help, New Delhi [Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters]

Hundreds of Afghans living in India are protesting against the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and demanding refugee status in the Hindu-majority country.

The Afghan refugees rallied on Monday outside the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) office in New Delhi, demanding justice and security for the future of Afghan children and women.

Most said they fled to India more than 10 years ago but are still not recognised as refugees, fighting a complex bureaucratic registration process.

The system strains under a years-long backlog as India is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention or the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees.

People protest outside the UNHCR office in New Delhi [Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters]

As of 2019, Afghans accounted for about one-third of the nearly 40,000 refugees registered in India, according to the UNHCR.

But there are many more who are not registered with the agency.

Demand for refugee status among the Afghan community in India has increased with the Taliban taking control of the country.

Many Afghans fear the Taliban will erase the gains, especially for women, achieved in the decades since the US-led invasion in 2001.

When the group ran the country in the late 1990s, it imposed its harsh interpretation of Islamic jurisprudence, forcing a sequestered life for many, particularly women and girls who were forbidden from education and most employment.

This time, the Taliban is presenting itself as a more moderate force, offering amnesty to those who fought them and declaring the rights of women will be honoured, in “accordance with Islamic law”.

As of 2019, Afghans accounted for about a third of 40,000 refugees registered in India [Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters]

Meanwhile, an Indian Air Force plane carrying 168 people from the Afghan capital, Kabul, landed at Hindon Air Force base near New Delhi on Sunday.

A spokesperson from India’s foreign ministry said the passengers included 107 Indian nationals and 61 others, without elaborating on the citizenship of the 61.

Another group of 87 Indians, who were evacuated by the Indian Air Force from Kabul to Tajikistan on Saturday, landed at New Delhi airport on Sunday with two Nepalese nationals among them.

India began evacuating its nationals last Sunday after the Taliban swept into Kabul.

The Press Trust of India news agency said some 400 Indians are believed to be stranded in Afghanistan.

No official figure for how many remain was available.

Source: News Agencies