Wednesday, September 16, 2009

More on MFI

The 64 members of the MFI who sought asylum in India have now been detained in Tihar Jail New Delhi for 29 months, on charges of making false declarations to get Indian visas, and of burning their passports. They admit the visa charges but say they were desperate to escape from a country where they were vulnerable to charges of blasphemy which carry a maximum penalty of death.

The UNHCR won't intervene, because India isn't a signatory of the Refugee Convention. And the Indians are understandably reluctant to grant the detainees permission to remain, whether as refugees or in any other capacity, because it would encourage others to try their luck. On the other hand the Indian authorities are unlikely to send them back to Pakistan and continued persecution, because that would be a serious breach of customary international law.

The Indian courts do string out difficult cases for a long time, and since that seems to be the strategy here, the interim solution would be to grant the detainees bail. In the long run, the answer would be for the UNHCR to persuade friendly countries to accept them for transfer of asylum, and to step up the pressure on Pakistan to repeal their infamous blasphemy laws.

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