Upholding Human Rights in the Face of Refugee Biometric Data Collection
East and South Asia Human Rights Researcher
Global Human Rights Defence
In a world where the pursuit of refuge from persecution and instability is an inherent human right (The Print, 28 September 2023), recent developments in the state of Mizoram, India, have raised questions about the preservation of fundamental liberties.
The Union Ministry of Home Affairs issued a directive for the collection of biometric data from Myanmar nationals seeking refuge in the Indian states of Mizoram and Manipur (NDTV, 28 September 2023, Hindustan Times, 28 September 2023). This directive followed the influx of approximately 60,000 Myanmarese refugees into Mizoram since the military coup in Myanmar on February 1, 2021 (Hindustan Times, 28 September 2023). While a pilot project for recording biometric data was initiated in Mizoram's relief camps (Hindustan Times, 28 September 2023), the government of Mizoram, led by Chief Minister Zoramthanga, has chosen not to proceed with this exercise, citing concerns of human rights violations and the absence of India as a signatory to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and its protocol (Hindustan Times, 28 September 2023 and The Print, 28 September 2023).
The Mizoram government's decision not to collect biometric data can be attributed to several factors:
- Violation of Human Rights: Mizoram expresses concerns that collecting biometric data may lead to the violation of human rights, particularly the right to life and freedom (Hindustan Times, 28 September 2023 and The Print, 28 September 2023). They believe that deporting individuals before there is peace in their home country would be a violation of human rights.
- Non-Signatory to Refugee Convention: Mizoram cites India's status as a non-signatory to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and its protocol as a reason for not collecting biometric data (The Print, 28 September 2023). They argue that they are not legally obliged to collect such data from refugees due to India's non-signatory status.
- Concerns about Discrimination: Additionally, Mizoram has voiced concerns that collecting biometric data from refugees could lead to discrimination (The Print, 28 September 2023). They argue that profiling individuals who are "of our blood and kindred brothers and sisters" may be seen as discriminatory and unnecessary (The Print, 28 September 2023).
The decision by the Mizoram government not to collect biometric data raises critical concerns regarding the violation of basic human rights.
- First and foremost, it raises questions about the right to seek asylum, as enshrined in Article 14(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). By abstaining from collecting data that would be essential for the protection of refugees, Mizoram arguably infringes upon this fundamental right.
- Furthermore, the refusal to collect biometric data can be seen as a potential breach of Article 3 of the UDHR, which prohibits actions that may lead to "inhuman or degrading treatment". By withholding vital information that could aid in the provision of essential services and support, such as education and healthcare, Mizoram's decision may exacerbate the suffering and vulnerability of these refugees.
- Moreover, the reluctance to collect data challenges the principle of non-refoulement, established in Article 33 of the 1951 Refugee Convention. Non-refoulement prohibits the expulsion or return of refugees to a territory where their life or freedom would be threatened. Failing to gather biometric data might hinder the identification of individuals who face such threats, thus jeopardizing their safety.
In the realm of international human rights, the decision by the Mizoram government not to collect biometric data from Myanmar refugees raises pressing concerns. While states have the sovereign right to determine their domestic policies (The Print, 28 September 2023), it is imperative that these policies align with international human rights standards. The fundamental rights of refugees, including the right to seek asylum and protection from persecution, should be upheld. The refusal to collect biometric data should not be a hindrance to providing essential humanitarian assistance.
In conclusion, it is essential that the Mizoram government, in consultation with the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (Hindustan Times, 28 September 2023), revisits its decision, keeping in mind the broader implications for the human rights of refugees. Striking a balance between security concerns and the preservation of basic liberties is not only a legal imperative but also a moral obligation in a world where the rights and dignity of every individual should be safeguarded, regardless of their place of origin.
NDTV. (28 September 2023). Manipur Continues Biometrics Drive, Gets More Time; Mizoram Won't Do It. Available at https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/manipur-continues-illegal-immigrants-biometrics-drive-gets-more-time-neighbour-mizoram-wont-do-it-4432505.
Hindustan Times. (28 September 2023). Mizoram to not collect biometric data of Myanmar refugees as directed by Centre. Available at https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/others/mizoram-to-not-collect-biometric-data-of-myanmar-refugees-as-directed-by-centre-101695915036551.html.
The Print. (28 September 2023). ‘Our blood:’ Mizoram won’t collect biometric data of Myanmar refugees as ordered by Centre. Available at https://theprint.in/india/our-blood-mizoram-wont-collect-biometric-data-of-myanmar-refugees-as-ordered-by-centre/1781750/.