India has always adopted a generous approach in providing shelter to those seeking refugee status, despite not having signed the 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol. It currently hosts 200,000 refugees – one of the largest urban refugee populations. While the government directly manages refugees from neighbouring countries, it has mandated UNHCR to assist refugees from non-neighbouring countries and Myanmar. To assess whether a person qualifies as a refugee, UNHCR conducts a quasi-judicial process called Refugee Status Determination (RSD).
As India’s first and only refugee law centre, M.A.P pioneered the concept of legal representation in the RSD process. It is currently the only organisation in the region to have been authorised by UNHCR to represent asylum claims before the agency. It has successfully lobbied for crucial improvements to transparency and accountability in the RSD process. Due to these efforts, today, every refugee in India has the right to a lawyer during the RSD process and to receive written reasons for rejection. Further, M.A.P’s model has been recognised by UNHCR HQ as a Best Practice Model.
Since inception, M.A.P has provided assistance to over 2000 refugees. Its clients are from countries severely affected by conflict such as Afghanistan, Burma, Somalia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Iran and Syria. M.A.P’s lawyers work with victims of war and conflict; survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, torture, and harmful traditional practices; and those targeted by anti-government elements. Over 80% of M.A.P’s clients are women and children.
Legal Representation & Counselling
M.A.P serves as a first point of contact for refugees in India. At this stage, they are provided with legal orientation counselling where they are informed about UNHCR’s asylum process, available support services, and their rights under Indian law. The lawyers then conduct a detailed in-take interview to identify vulnerabilities and seek immediate intervention for protection concerns. M.A.P’s lawyers assist clients to register themselves with UNHCR, following which clients receive comprehensive representation in the asylum process. This includes conducting multiple one-on-one sessions with the client to enable them to verbalise their trauma, preparing a personal testimony, conducting legal research, drafting legal submissions, compiling supporting documents, and accompanying clients to UNHCR for the asylum interviews. Once a client is recognised as a refugee, M.A.P provides follow-up services and referrals in order to facilitate access to essential services such as healthcare and education.
Specialised Assistance for Survivors of Torture
Many refugees come to India having faced torture and severe persecution in their home countries. For them, in addition to the aforementioned services, M.A.P provides specialised services under this program. As the first point of contact for refugees in India, M.A.P is best-placed to identify their vulnerabilities and protection concerns. This is essential as UNHCR considers torture survivors within the refugee community to be amongst the most vulnerable, and where it is brought to the attention of the agency that a refugee is a torture survivor or faces a risk of torture upon return, the agency provides an expedited asylum process and access to immediate protection services such as medical care (particularly psycho-social counselling and treatment), shelter etc. Further, M.A.P ensures that after a client has been recognised as a refugee there is a seamless handover of the case from M.A.P to UNHCR / its implementing partners for further protection assistance. It also links the clients to other institutions in India who provide assistance to victims of torture.
In April 2017, M.A.P participated as an expert panelist at the "UN Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture - Expert Workshop on Torture Victims in the Context of Migration" organised by the OHCHR in Geneva.