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2014 UNHCR regional operations profile - South-East Asia

| Overview |

Working environment

Most countries in South-East Asia do not have any legislation regulating the rights of asylum-seekers and refugees, and UNHCR conducts refugee status determination in the absence of a national asylum system. Three countries in South-East Asia have national asylum systems at varying levels of development. One country has limited processing for certain groups under an "admissions board" process. A number of States without national asylum systems generally consider refugees and asylum-seekers to be illegal migrants, who as such are susceptible to detention, expulsion, refoulement and other serious protection risks. Regarding statelessness, only one State in the subregion has signed the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons. UNHCR advocates for States in the region to ensure an adequate protection space for refugees and stateless people, as well as for the establishment of effective legal and normative frameworks governing international protection.

In the South-East Asian context, where mixed-migration movements prevail, a number of States implement detention, border-control, and restrictive maritime and other policies to manage irregular migration and ensure national security, which at times are detrimental to international protection. Furthermore, people-smuggling and human-trafficking networks in the sub-region have flourished, along with an increase in irregular maritime movements and a loss of life at sea. The Regional Cooperation Framework being implemented by the Bali Process through the Regional Support Office, and other regional initiatives, are expected to strengthen cooperation in safeguarding refugee protection while countering irregular movements.

The inter-communal conflict that broke out in mid- and late 2012 in Myanmar's Rakhine State, which resulted in large-scale internal displacement and the need for emergency humanitarian response inside the country, has also driven a growing number of refugees from Rakhine State to depart to or transit through various countries in the region, including by sea in unseaworthy and overcrowded boats.

| Response |


  • UNHCR's protection strategies in South-East Asia will focus on the establishment of protection-sensitive responses to mixed migration, registration, documentation, access to asylum, refugee status determination (RSD) and the promotion of alternatives to detention. UNHCR will also aim to protect and assist the most vulnerable urban refugees and prevent refoulement. 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.

  • The Office will continue to advocate for the rights of people of concern and for States' adherence to international protection standards. It will do so in cooperation with concerned governments, and with the support of regional processes and institutions and civil-society actors.

  • UNHCR will also continue to work with States to promote and implement comprehensive protection-sensitive responses to irregular movements of people and mixed migration, including under the Regional Cooperation Framework endorsed by the Bali Process, as well as through other regional initiatives.

  • Closer cooperation with regional institutions, as well as NGO and civil society groupings, will aim to promote government ownership of refugee protection, particularly with regard to access to protection, basic services and registration.

  • UNHCR will continue to collaborate with ASEAN human rights mechanisms and other ASEAN entities on statelessness and refugee protection.


In South-East Asia's complex mixed-migration context, States' interests relating to both national security and the maintenance of good relations with neighbours pose challenges to international protection and access to asylum. Available protection space in the region is fragile, unpredictable and inconsistent due in part to the lack of national legal frameworks for refugees, asylum-seekers, and stateless people in the region. The continued use in some countries of immigration detention facilities to hold asylum-seekers, refugees and stateless people, including children and others vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, is of concern. In addition, many urban refugees and asylum-seekers are unable to earn a living or gain access to social services.

| Implementation |


Operations in Malaysia, Myanmar and Thailand are described in separate country chapters.

In Bangladesh, UNHCR provides protection and assistance to refugees residing in refugee camps to help address their humanitarian needs and ensure minimum standards of living are met, which helps to deter irregular onward movement. For unregistered refugees residing outside the camps, UNHCR advocates for them to be registered and provided with protection as needed. UNHCR also advocates for more self-reliance opportunities for urban refugees and seeks durable solutions for them. Advocacy for the prevention of statelessness will continue.

In Cambodia, UNHCR supports the Government's Refugee Office both financially and by offering technical advice. The support focuses on assisting the Refugee Office as it continues to build its capacity to decide on asylum procedures, provide legal and social support to the refugees and asylum-seekers in the country, and to enhance prospects for the local integration of refugees.

In light of the increase in the number of asylum-seekers arriving in Indonesia, UNHCR is building its registration and refugee status determination (RSD) capacity in the country, as well as strengthening its ability to process recognized refugees for resettlement. The work to enhance resettlement processing capacity that began in 2012 will proceed. UNHCR will continue to collaborate with civil society to advocate for alternatives to detention for asylum-seekers. Particular attention will be paid to ensuring that refugees with specific needs will be assisted. UNHCR will continue to advocate for Indonesia to enhance its regional responsibility for refugee protection in the context of regional initiatives, such as the Bali Process and the Regional Cooperation Framework.

As one of the countries in the region that have acceded to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, the Philippines is developing its capacity to manage its asylum system. In 2012, a combined refugee status and stateless determination procedure was adopted. UNHCR supports the Government in this endeavour, in addition to assisting its efforts to address statelessness.

The Philippines provides a transit centre for those refugees who are in need of temporary relocation outside of the country of asylum pending departure for resettlement. In the framework of the coordinated UN response to requests by the Government to address internal displacement in Mindanao, UNHCR co-leads the protection cluster for those displaced by internal conflict, with the Government's Department of Social Welfare and Development. Activities focus on protection monitoring, civil and birth certification and the protection of people with special needs.

In Viet Nam, UNHCR will continue to collaborate with and support the Government bodies working to reduce statelessness. The Office will advocate for the naturalization of stateless people or the re-granting of lost nationality. UNHCR will also promote the Government's accession to the 1954 Statelessness Convention. Advocacy for the prevention of statelessness will be conducted through ASEAN entities.

UNHCR does not have an operational presence in the Lao People's Democratic Republic or Timor-Leste. In Singapore the Office's presence is limited with one staff member responsible for private-sector fundraising. The situation of refugees and asylum-seekers in these three countries is monitored and they are assisted where necessary by UNHCR's Regional Office in Bangkok. UNHCR will continue to assist the Timor-Leste Government's Asylum Office in building its capacity to decide asylum applications and to assist refugees. UNHCR will also continue to contribute to the drafting of Timor-Leste's revised immigration and asylum law.

| Financial information |

Over the last several years, UNHCR's financial requirements in the South-East Asia subregion have increased sharply from USD 69.4 million in 2010 to a revised 2013 budget of USD 151 million. This increase was mainly due to the outbreak of communal violence and the resulting displacement in Myanmar's Rakhine State in mid-2012, the internal displacement situation in Kachin State, and ensuring preparedness for the possible return to Myanmar of refugees in Thailand if conditions become conducive. In 2014, the financial requirements for the region are set at USD 153 million; however, these requirements may change should any voluntary returns to Myanmar of refugees in Thailand take place.

UNHCR budgets for South-East Asia (USD)
Operation 2013
Revised budget
(as of 30 June 2013)
2014 2015
Total 151,012,866 83,659,745 16,791,991 52,553,888 153,005,624 158,754,655
Bangladesh 12,609,556 11,410,451 12,510 0 11,422,961 11,356,138
Indonesia 8,007,336 7,950,312 155,005 0 8,105,317 8,238,418
Malaysia 17,477,520 18,875,102 1,231,502 0 20,106,604 21,695,610
Myanmar 68,481,570 6,051,000 12,940,291 49,073,119 68,064,410 67,772,726
Philippines 8,427,638 697,717 727,572 3,480,770 4,906,059 4,641,297
Thailand 28,044,521 32,090,244 710,059 0 32,800,303 37,233,459
Thailand Regional Office 7,564,224 6,584,919 577,849 0 7,162,768 7,817,007
Viet Nam 400,500 0 437,203 0 437,203 0

Source: UNHCR Global Appeal 2014-2105



Statistical Snapshot*
* As at January 2014
  1. Country or territory of asylum or residence. In the absence of Government estimates, UNHCR has estimated the refugee population in most industrialized countries based on 10 years of asylum-seekers recognition.
  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 whose status has not yet been verified.
  3. Persons whose application for asylum or refugee status is pending at any stage in the procedure.
  4. Refugees who have returned to their place of origin during the first six months of 2013. Source: Country of origin and asylum.
  5. Persons who are displaced within their country and to whom UNHCR extends protection and/or assistance. It also includes persons who are in an IDP-like situation.
  6. IDPs protected/assisted by UNHCR who have returned to their place of origin during the first six months of 2013.
  7. Refers to persons under UNHCR's statelessness mandate.
  8. Persons of concern to UNHCR not included in the previous columns but to whom UNHCR extends protection and/or assistance.
  9. The category of people in a refugee-like situation is descriptive in nature and includes groups of people who are outside their country of origin and who face protection risks similar to those of refugees, but for whom refugee status has, for practical or other reasons, not been ascertained.
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 Philippines [1]
Refugees [2] 182
Asylum Seekers [3] 79
Returned Refugees [4] 0
Internally Displaced Persons (IDPS) [5] 117,369
Returned IDPs [6] 211,607
Stateless Persons [7] 6,015
Various [8] 68
Total Population of Concern 335,320
Originating from Philippines [1]
Refugees [2] 726
Asylum Seekers [3] 889
Returned Refugees [4] 0
Internally Displaced Persons (IDPS) [5] 117,369
Returned IDPs [6] 211,607
Various [8] 80,030
Total Population of Concern 410,621
Government Contributions to UNHCR
Contributions since 2000
2014 0
2013 0
2012 100,000
2011 0
2010 0
2009 2,000
2008 591
2007 12,604
2006 3,639
2005 962
2004 416
2003 2,410
2002 1,059
2001 3,220
2000 0
Private Sector Contributions to UNHCR
Contributions since 2006
More info 1,491
As at 8 May 2014
2013 0
2012 0
2011 0
2010 0
2009 0
2008 0
2007 0
2006 0

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Typhoon Haiyan Devastates the Philippines

An estimated 13 million people were affected when Typhoon Haiyan struck the central Philippines on November 8. Thousands were killed and about 3 million are believed to be displaced - some of them living in evacuation sites, others on the ruins of their former homes. Tacloban City in Leyte province was one of the hardest-hit areas. A week after the typhoon made landfall, large parts of its coast remain flattened and piles of debris still line the streets. Working with the Philippines government and UN and NGO partners, UNHCR is airlifting emergency supplies for thousands of survivors. The agency is delivering tents, plastic sheets, mosquito nets and other critical aid. It is also co-leading the protection cluster with the government, working to identify vulnerable people and ensuring that they have access to basic assistance and services. UNHCR has appealed for US$15 million to meet these critical needs. UNHCR is now present in Tacloban and Ormoc in Leyte province, as well as Guiuan in Eastern Samar province.

Typhoon Haiyan Devastates the Philippines

Typhoon Haiyan: On the Road to Recovery Six Months After the Storm

Six months after Typhoon Haiyan carved its deadly and destructive path through the central Philippines and forcibly displaced 4 million Filipinos, the area is like a big construction site as people get on with rebuilding their flattened homes as well as their lives. Many have moved into renovated homes while thousands of those who fled to cities like Cebu and Manila have returned home. But large numbers still live in tents or former evacuation centres; full recovery is still some way off and many people need help. UNHCR is working with the government and other partners to address the challenges and find solutions for the displaced. The refugee agency has provided assistance to more than 600,000 people, distributing shelter materials and household items, including solar-powered lanterns in areas where there is still no electricity. UNHCR is also supporting a government-led mobile civil registration project to give 100,000 people continued access to social welfare, education and employment. Photographer Jeoffrey Maitem marked the six-month milestone by visiting communities recovering from Typhoon Haiyan.

Typhoon Haiyan: On the Road to Recovery Six Months After the Storm

One Year On: Thousands Still Recovering from Typhoon Haiyan

On November 8, 2013, Typhoon Haiyan - one of the strongest tropical cyclones on record anywhere - ran ashore in the central Philippines, causing wide devastation, displacing 4 million people and killing at least 6,300. A year on, and the recovery work still goes on. While most of the 4.1 million people who were displaced have either returned home to rebuild, or been relocated, solutions are still needed for some 20,000 people either living in shelters or - in a small number of cases - with host families.

The UN refugee agency and partners such as shipments and logistics giant United Parcel Service (UPS) were swift to respond last November, contributing funds for immediate needs and for long-term recovery. Funding was used to provide critical aid during the emergency, including tents, solar-powered lanterns and protection kits.

A year after the typhoon struck, some people in Leyte province, one of the areas hardest hit, are still rebuilding their lives. People still need help with physical dwellings, water and sanitation, hygiene, as well as land and property issues. Some live in tents, others have moved into transitional housing and some families are building new houses. Despite the trauma, there is a real sense of hope for the future among the people of Leyte. Photographer Phil Behan and UNHCR staff member Marjanna Bergman visited the central Philippines to record the situation today.

One Year On: Thousands Still Recovering from Typhoon Haiyan

Philippines: One Year After Typhoon HaiyanPlay video

Philippines: One Year After Typhoon Haiyan

On November 8 last year, Typhoon Haiyan slammed into the central Philippines, causing widespread devastation and killing thousands of people. A year on, and the recovery work still goes on. Bartolome on Leyte Island looks back at his family's experience, including living on a dredger for several weeks after their home was destroyed.

Philippines : Rebuilding a Year After Typhoon HaiyanPlay video

Philippines : Rebuilding a Year After Typhoon Haiyan

One year ago, the central Philippines was hit by Typhoon Haiyan, a massive storm that wiped out entire communities and killed more than 6,000 people. Today, the residents of hard-hit areas such as Leyte Island are well on their way to rebuilding their lives.

#IBELONG: End Statelessness NowPlay video

#IBELONG: End Statelessness Now

Philippines: A home for NowPlay video

Philippines: A home for Now

Losing your family and home is losing everything you are and have. Tyhone Haiyan tore many families apart and took almost every persons home in Tacloban City ... in one day. UNHCR has provided more than 1,500 family tents to families in this area in addition to solar lanterns, plastic sheets, blankets and other relief items to help the people of Tacloban City regain a sense of life.

Philippines: Leaving the Darkness Play video

Philippines: Leaving the Darkness

When typhoon Haiyan swept Tacloban City, it took with it what people need the most to see their way through any hard time: light. UNHCR has provided people of the Philippines with relief items that are helping make a difference. Relief items such as solar lanterns, plastic sheets, blankets and more than 1,500 family tents to families in this area.

Philippines: Picking up the Pieces.Play video

Philippines: Picking up the Pieces.

In Tanauan, one of the coastal areas worst hit by Typhoon Haiyun, people are being given tents and assistance while they start rebuilding their homes and lives.

Philippines: Landless in MindanaoPlay video

Philippines: Landless in Mindanao

Displaced by fighting, one indigenous community in the Philippines didn't want food or shelter -- only training to stand up for their rights.
Philippines: Sex Strike Brings PeacePlay video

Philippines: Sex Strike Brings Peace

Displaced women in two villages on Mindanao Island find an unconventional way to stop their menfolk fighting, clear roads and start rebuilding amid a separatist rebellion.