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Supreme Court issues notice in petition seeking food security for all refugees, asylum seekers, particularly those in settlements

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The Supreme Court has issued notice in a petition seeking food security for all refugees and asylum seekers, particularly those residing in settlements.

The bench of Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and Justice A.S. Bopanna heard the matter filed by Advocate-on-Record Amiy Shukla and observed that though the Covid problems are over, however, issued notice to the Centre, Delhi, Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir, Telangana, Manipur, and Mizoram wherein a number of refugees and asylum-seekers, who are residing in different settlements, are gravely affected by Covid-19.

The petition prays for a direction to the state governments to provide free dry rations to all refugees and asylum seekers who are registered with the UNHCR, India without any requirement of a Ration card, Aadhaar card or any other documentation. It is also prayed to set up community kitchens across all settlements where refugees and asylum seekers are residing. The petitioner also seeks arrangements for the provision of foodgrain entitlements in consonance to the provisions of Section 3 of the National Food Security Act, 2013 and also seek the distribution of nutritious food in accordance with sections 4, 5, and 6 of the National Food Security Act for the children and women through Anganwadi centres and furthermore to supply three free nutritious cooked meals a day to refugees and asylum seekers that require cooked meals

Shukla submitted that the right to food is an implication of the right to life enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution of India. Furthermore, the enactment of the National Food Security Act, 2013 marked a paradigm shift in the approach to food security from welfare to a rights-based approach. However, the conditions in the refugee settlements are deplorable and there are ever-present health challenges like lack of sanitation, no proper toilets, shortage of drinking water, etc. even during the best of times, for the residents of these settlements.

The petition raises questions like whether the right to food which is protected under Article 21 of the Constitution of India can be denied for non-possession of Aadhaar and Ration Card during the pandemic when there is data available in UNHRC records.

It is stated that according to the UNHCR factsheet dated 31.01.2020, there are 2,10,201 refugees and asylum seekers residing in India. There are 203,235 refugees from Sri Lanka and Tibet, and 40,859 refugees and asylum seekers of other nationalities are registered under UNHCR’s mandate. There are around 2000 refugees who are not registered with UNHCR as the registration process has been gravely affected due to Covid-19.

It states that there are around more than 17,000 refugees and asylum seekers living in different settlements across the NCT of Delhi. They belong to different nationalities and came to India because of a well-founded fear of persecution in their country of origin. It is stated that, ever since the lockdown was first imposed in 2020, there has been a huge loss of livelihood opportunities, and almost all Afghan refugee families are struggling to make ends meet. The Afghans reported that the lack of documentation makes it difficult for them to get money transferred from relatives and acquaintances abroad, which was the only little help they were hopeful of receiving during this time of very little to no income at all.

It is stated that the Chin refugees and asylum seekers were discriminated against because of their appearance and harassed by labeling them as ‘chinki and coronavirus’. As per the data collected by the petitioner, there are approximately 3000 Chin refugees and asylum seekers from Myanmar, who are mostly residing in the areas of West Delhi in rented accommodations.

The petition further states that there are 721 Rohingya residing in the State of Delhi. The Rohingyas are residing in two settlements i.e. Sharam Vihar settlement and Khadar Rohingya settlement. The settlements are in cramped conditions, making the residents especially vulnerable to the spread of Covid-19. The water in these areas is highly contaminated and has high iron which makes it undrinkable. There have been several reports in the past of various critical health conditions because of the intake of groundwater. The water tanker used to visit these areas, however, there has been no supply of clean drinking water since the announcement of the lockdown by the Delhi government.

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The 102 Iraqis refugees residing in Delhi have reported that they are facing complete loss of jobs and income, and are struggling to make ends meet every single day. The Iraqis also reported that since they do not possess any identification document issued by Indian authorities, they were not able to avail themselves of the free ration distribution schemes of the government.

The petition further elaborates on the different number of refugees being settled in different states. For example, as of March 9, 2021, there are a recorded 28 (twenty-eight) settlements with around 1783 families i.e. around 7600 individuals belonging to the ethnic minority group of Myanmar known as Rohingyas residing in various settlements in Jammu, Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir. The total population of the Rohingya refugee and asylum seekers in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir comprises approximately 3647 children and 1624 women. All the settlements are in deplorable conditions with limited access to government schemes.

Case Title: Fazal Abdali vs. UOI

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