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2015 UNHCR subregional operations profile - South-East Asia

| Overview |

UNHCR 2015 South-East Asia subregional operations map

Available protection space for refugees, asylum-seekers and stateless people in the region is fragile and unpredictable, due to a lack of national legal frameworks in most South-East Asian countries. Furthermore, some States have introduced increasingly restrictive policies - such as denying safe disembarkation or access at the airport, and narrowing protection space and access to asylum. There is also an increase in maritime "push backs" and instances of refoulement.

Only three States are parties to the 1951 Refugee Convention and only one State has signed the 1954 Statelessness Convention. The lack of asylum laws and diversity of national legal frameworks, as well as government practices and protection environments in the region's countries, make achieving regional harmonization challenging.

A major component of UNHCR's work remains to increase the protection space for all groups of concern and to advocate with States in South-East Asia to establish effective legal frameworks governing the protection of refugees and stateless populations. A significant number of refugees and asylum-seekers in the region reside in urban settings, and some States without national asylum systems consider them to be illegal migrants, thereby subjecting them to detention, expulsion, refoulement, and other serious protection risks. The lack of legal status also prevents people of concern from accessing the labour market and basic services, including health care and education.

The irregular movements of people of concern in the region pose grave dangers to those who undertake them, with an increase in maritime movements and a loss of life at sea. They also present serious challenges in balancing governments' international obligations to provide fair access to protection and asylum to those in need, with the need to combat people-smuggling and human-trafficking networks, and the legitimate interest of States to maintain control of national borders.

In Myanmar,escalating inter-communal conflict in Rakhine State in June 2012 resulted in internal displacement as well as outflows to other regional countries, including irregularly by sea. An increasing number of women and children are risking their lives in unseaworthy boats. There are reports of exploitation, violence, trafficking, forced labour, as well as abuse in transit perpetrated to extract additional payment from relatives.

UNHCR will advocate upholding the rights of people of concern and States' adherence to international protection standards, in cooperation with the governments concerned and with the support of regional institutions and civil-society actors. Such cooperation aims to promote government ownership of refugee protection, particularly regarding refugees' access to protection, basic services and registration.

Where the necessary conditions are in place, comprehensive solutions and approaches will be pursued, including local integration, voluntary repatriation, resettlement, labour options and temporary stay arrangements.

UNHCR in South-East Asia will focus on establishing protection-sensitive responses to mixed migration, registration and documentation. It will support access to asylum and refugee status determination (RSD), and promote alternatives to detention. Additionally, the Office will continue to implement strategies aimed at improving protection and durable solution prospects for urban refugees, including targeted assistance to the most vulnerable urban refugees, and preventing refoulement.

The organization will continue to work with States to promote and implement comprehensive protection-sensitive responses to irregular movements of people and mixed migration, through regional initiatives, including the Regional Cooperation Framework endorsed by the Bali Process. A Regional Maritime Movements Monitoring Unit has been established in the Regional Office for South-East Asia, based in Bangkok.

UNHCR will continue to collaborate with the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) human rights mechanisms and other entities on statelessness and refugee protection. It will continue to promote birth registration among all populations of concern to prevent statelessness and increase child protection. In a number of key States, UNHCR is working with governments to help reduce statelessness among minority communities.

| Response and implementation |

Operations in Myanmar and Thailand are presented in separate country chapters. For other countries where UNHCR operates in the subregion, please see below.

In early 2014, the Government of Bangladesh announced its national strategy for Myanmar refugees and undocumented Myanmar nationals, acknowledging their need for basic humanitarian relief. UNHCR hopes that this will enable unregistered refugees to access international protection. Meanwhile, UNHCR provides protection and life-sustaining assistance to refugees residing in the two official camps, pending the identification of durable solutions. The organization advocates for the prevention of statelessness, more self-reliance opportunities for urban refugees and durable solutions.

In Indonesia, UNHCR continues to provide mandate protection to refugees and asylum-seekers in a number of urban locations through registration, RSD, documentation and processing for resettlement and repatriation, where possible. The detention of refugees and asylum-seekers and the widespread location of people of concern remain key protection challenges in Indonesia, particularly for a growing number of children and detainees with specific needs. To improve the protection environment, the organization will support the capacity of local authorities. It will also assist those with specific protection needs, though funding shortfalls limit the number of people likely to benefit.

In Mongolia, UNHCR will continue to conduct RSD while advocating for the Government to establish asylum procedures and to promote further measures to address statelessness including potential accession to the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, and to the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.

Malaysia is not party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and lacks a legislative and administrative framework to address refugee matters. As all asylum-seekers and refugees are treated as irregular migrants, and in the absence of any substantive engagement by the authorities, UNHCR remains the principal actor in providing international protection. The Office will continue to address the issue of statelessness, including by identifying and seeking to reduce the number of people with undetermined nationality at risk of statelessness. UNHCR will also advocate regularizing the legal status of people of concern including through alternative stay arrangements and labour migration schemes.

The Emergency Transit Mechanism for resettlement processing will continue in the Philippines. Efforts to strengthen the national protection regime,in collaboration with government agencies and humanitarian partners, will continue. A complementary protection framework for people falling outside the Refugee Convention definition will be pursued. In the southern Philippines, UNHCR will co-lead the protection cluster with the Government's Department of Social Welfare and Development, to coordinate a response to the internal displacement situation.

UNHCR also works with communities of Indonesian origin living in southern Mindanao, as well as relevant government authorities and civil society, to resolve the nationality status of 6,015 people of concern under UNHCR's statelessness mandate.

The organization promotes the civil registration of all people of concern, and is active in improving civil registration and vital statistics in Asia and the Pacific. The Regional Office is pursuing better refugee protection in Cambodia and Timor-Leste by supporting asylum procedures and capacity building, as well as working with the Government of Viet Nam to resolve the nationality status of the remaining populations of concern under UNHCR's statelessness mandate.

| Financial information |

Since 2011, the financial requirements in the subregion have been affected by various developments, including in Myanmar by population displacement in Rakhine State in mid-2012, the escalation of conflict in Kachin State and the possibility of refugees voluntarily returning to Myanmar from Thailand as the peace process continues. In the Philippines, UNHCR has been involved in the coordinated humanitarian response to internal displacement caused by a series of natural disasters, the most recent being Typhoon Haiyan in late 2013. The subregional budget for 2015 stands at USD 157 million.

UNHCR 2015 budgets for South-East Asia (USD)
Operation 2014
Revised budget
(as of 30 June 2014)
Total 159,110,944 92,606,996 17,724,931 46,644,125 156,976,052
1. Includes activities in Cambodia and Viet Nam (from 2015).
2. As from 2015 Viet Nam is reported under Thailand Regional Office.
Bangladesh 12,385,988 14,425,575 8,731 0 14,434,305
Indonesia 8,146,793 6,910,233 89,942 0 7,000,175
Malaysia 20,161,428 16,410,089 830,521 0 17,240,610
Myanmar 68,108,703 10,746,411 13,848,084 43,178,231 67,772,726
Philippines 9,677,822 1,059,787 952,090 3,465,894 5,477,770
Thailand 32,803,303 36,035,542 1,197,917 0 37,233,459
Thailand Regional Office[1] 7,389,703 7,019,359 797,647 0 7,817,006
Viet Nam[2] 437,203 - - - -

Source: UNHCR Global Appeal 2015 Update



Statistical Snapshot*
* As at June 2015
  1. Country or territory of asylum or residence.
  2. Persons recognized as refugees under the 1951 UN Convention/1967 Protocol, the 1969 OAU Convention, in accordance with the UNHCR Statute, persons granted a complementary form of protection and those granted temporary protection. It also includes persons in a refugee-like situation for whom refugee status has, for practical or other reasons, not been ascertained. In the absence of Government figures, UNHCR has estimated the refugee population in many industrialized countries based on 10 years of individual asylum-seeker recognition.
  3. Persons whose applications for asylum or refugee status are pending as at 30 June 2015 at any stage in the asylum procedure.
  4. Refugees who have returned to their place of origin during the first half of 2015. Source: country of origin and asylum.
  5. Persons who are displaced within their country and to whom UNHCR extends protection and assistance. It also includes people in IDP-like situations. This category is descriptive in nature and includes groups of persons who are inside their country of nationality or habitual residence and who face protection risks similar to those of IDPs but who, for practical or other reasons, could not be reported as such.
  6. IDPs protected/assisted by UNHCR who have returned to their place of origin during the first half of 2015.
  7. Refers to persons who are not considered as nationals by any State under the operation of its law. This category refers to persons who fall under the agency's statelessness mandate because they are stateless according to this international definition, but data from some countries may also include persons with undetermined nationality.
  8. Refers to individuals who do not necessarily fall directly into any of the other groups but to whom UNHCR may extend its protection and/or assistance services. These activities might be based on humanitarian or other special grounds.
The data are generally provided by Governments, based on their own definitions and methods of data collection.
A dash (-) indicates that the value is zero, not available or not applicable.

Source: UNHCR/Governments.
Compiled by: UNHCR, FICSS.
Residing in Bangladesh [1]
Refugees [2]
More info 232,975
The total figure includes 200,000 persons originating from Myanmar in a refugee-like situation. The Government of Bangladesh estimates the population to be between 300,000 and 500,000.
Asylum Seekers [3] 11
Returned Refugees [4] 0
Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) [5] 0
Returned IDPs [6] 0
Stateless Persons [7] 0
Various [8] 0
Total Population of Concern 232,986
Originating from Bangladesh [1]
Refugees [2] 11,109
Asylum Seekers [3] 28,150
Returned Refugees [4] 0
Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) [5] 0
Returned IDPs [6] 0
Various [8] 12
Total Population of Concern 39,271
Private Sector Contributions to UNHCR
Contributions since 2006
2014 0
2013 0
2012 492
2011 2,164
2010 0
2009 0
2008 0
2007 0
2006 0

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2012 UNHCR partners in Bangladesh
Implementing partners
Government agencies:; Ministry of Food and Disaster Management; National Human Rights Commission
NGOs: Bangladesh Red Crescent Society; BRAC; Empowerment by Law of the Common People; Research Initiatives Bangladesh; Research Training and Management International; Technical Assistance Inc.
Operational partners
NGOs: Action Contre La Faim; Concern Worldwide; Handicap International; International Federation of Red Cross; Médecins Sans Frontières - Bangladesh; Médecins Sans Frontières - Holland; Muslim Aid; Solidarites International

Returnees in Myanmar

During the early 1990s, more than 250,000 Rohingya Muslims fled across the border into Bangladesh, citing human rights abuses by Myanmar's military government. In exile, refugees received shelter and assistance in 20 camps in the Cox's Bazaar region of Bangladesh. More than 230,000 of the Rohingya Muslims have returned since 1992, but about 22,000 still live in camps in Bangladesh. To promote stability in returnee communities in Myanmar and to help this group of re-integrate into their country, UNHCR and its partner agencies provide monitors to insure the protection and safety of the returnees as well as vocational training, income generation schemes, adult literacy programs and primary education.

Returnees in Myanmar

Statelessness in Bangladesh: The Biharis

Some 240,000 Urdu-speaking Biharis spent decades living in appalling conditions in squalid settlements in Bangladesh. They were not recognized as citizens and had little hope of a normal life.

The plight of the Biharis, whose ancestors moved to Bangladesh from India following the 1947 partition of the subcontinent, stems from the separation of Bangladesh from Pakistan in 1971. While many Bihari Urdu speakers subsequently relocated to Pakistan, up to 300,000 remained in Bangladesh. For many years, their legal rights as citizens were not recognized. Many lived in camps and open settlements and were, as a consequence, often denied access to education and had difficulty finding work.

In 2008, the High Court in Dhaka ruled that the Urdu speakers were nationals of Bangladesh. The government registered the adults as voters in time for the December 2008 general election and issued them with national ID cards.Today they remain a linguistic minority in need of better housing and employment opportunities.

There are an estimated 12 million stateless people in the world. Many are effectively trapped in legal limbo, often with limited enjoyment of human rights.

Statelessness in Bangladesh: The Biharis

Living Silence: Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh

"Living Silence" is a photographic exhibition of one of the world's most enduring refugee crises, by award-winning photographer Saiful Huq Omi.

Bangladesh has hosted refugees for over three decades. Today, 28,000 refugees from Myanmar known as the Rohingya - an ethnic, religious and linguistic minority people - are living in the two official refugee camps in the south-east of Bangladesh. Over half of them are children, many of whom have only ever experienced life in the camps. It is estimated that there are a further 200,000 Rohingya living outside the camps, unable to return to Myanmar where they fear persecution and exploitation.

Like refugees around the world, the Rohingya refugees are survivors. They are living in transience, waiting for the day they can go home in safety and in dignity. Until then, like any other people, they aspire to live a life free from violence and exploitation.

Together with other UN agencies and NGOs, UNHCR provides shelter, water, primary education and health care to refugees from Myanmar in the Nayapara and Kutupalong camps. UNHCR is also working with governments around the world to resettle some of the most vulnerable.

Living Silence: Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh

Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh

In 1991, some 250,000 refugees from Myanmar's Northern Rakhine state fled by boat and on foot to neighbouring Bangladesh, where they were sheltered in 20 camps in the Cox's Bazar district. While the majority of these refugees eventually returned home, some 20,500 people – mostly Rohingya, a Muslim minority ethnic group – remain in two of the original camps.

Conditions in these camps are below standard, with many refugees living in overcrowded shelters in desperate need of repair. Frequent heavy rains inundate the area, further damaging shelters and spreading disease. Harassment and discrimination add to the plight of the Rohingya refugees, the majority of whom say that they do not want to return home until there is peace and democracy in Myanmar.

The UNHCR has expanded its routine protection monitoring in Cox's Bazar to address the problems of sexual and gender-based violence as well as trafficking of women and children. The UN refugee agency continues to work with governments, other UN agencies and non-governmental organisations to try and find a durable solution for the Rohingya refugees.

Posted on 27 November 2006

Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh

Desperation on the Andaman Sea

For days, they were an undertow, an unseen tide of people adrift in the Andaman Sea. UNHCR and its partners had warned that thousands of Rohingya and Bangladeshis were held captive at sea, then abandoned as their crew fled government crackdowns on smuggling and trafficking networks.

Then a green boat surfaced on TV, packed with emaciated men, crying women and sick children, all dehydrated, hungry and desperate. It gave a face to the problem, then vanished overnight. After five days drifting between the coasts of Thailand and Malaysia, some 400 people on board were finally rescued by Indonesian fishermen in the early hours of May 20.

They are among more than 3,000 lucky ones who have been able to come ashore since May 10 in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, where UNHCR is helping to assess their needs. Thousands more could still be stranded at sea. In a welcome statement on May 20, the Foreign Ministers of Indonesia and Malaysia agreed to bring these vulnerable people to shore - a move that will hopefully end the long nightmare at sea.

Desperation on the Andaman Sea

Bangladesh: Rohingya Refugees Play video

Bangladesh: Rohingya Refugees

Living in limbo for years has pushed some Rohingyas to risk everything in search of a better life.
Bangladesh: A Life On HoldPlay video

Bangladesh: A Life On Hold

The story of Noor Jahan, a refugee from Myanmar. Noor Jahan fled from Myanmar in 1992 and found shelter in Bangladesh. Camp life has always been hard, but recent improvements have made her family's life a little easier.