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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 Timor-Leste [1]
Refugees [2] 0
Asylum Seekers [3] 2
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 2
Originating from Timor-Leste [1]
Refugees [2] 10
Asylum Seekers [3] 9
Returned Refugees [4] 0
Internally Displaced Persons (IDPS) [5] 0
Returned IDPs [6] 0
Various [8] 0
Total Population of Concern 19

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Emergency in Timor-Leste pt.4: UNHCR Sets Up Camps

With the first wave of UNHCR's air and sea operation to rush relief supplies to Timor-Leste completed, the focus is now on improving the living conditions of thousands of internally displaced people (IDPs) living in crowded, unsanitary makeshift camps around Dili.

Many of the 69,000 displaced in Dili have told UNHCR they prefer to stay near the makeshift sites where they feel safe. In response, UNHCR has begun searching for additional sites around these areas to clear ground, pitch tents and decongest the existing makeshift shelters. Not all makeshift sites are suitable for expansion, so UNHCR is moving ahead with the establishment and planning of new sites.

UNHCR has sent an assessment team to the countryside where some 78,000 Timorese have sought refuge. Many displaced are staying with relatives, while others are sheltering in huts, offices, church building and spontaneous camp sites. We are now delivering assistance to some of these people.

Emergency in Timor-Leste pt.4: UNHCR Sets Up Camps

Emergency in Timor-Leste pt.3: UNHCR's Air and Sea Relief Delivery Operation

Rushing emergency relief supplies to tens of thousands of displaced people in the strife-hit Timor-Leste has been a top priority for the UN refugee agency.

On Monday, the first phase of the air and sea operation ferrying in 200 metric tonnes of tents, blankets, plastic sheeting and kitchen sets, was completed.

Last week four Antonov-12 flights flew in 56 tonnes of supplies, and on Monday 12 June, a freighter crossed the Timor Sea from Darwin, loaded with 150 tonnes of supplies, flown in earlier from UNHCR's regional Middle East stockpiles in Jordan to the northern Australian city. There are now shelter supplies on the ground for some 17,000 people.

Working closely with partners on the ground, UNHCR's emergency team is already improving living conditions at the crowded, unsanitary makeshift camps around the capital Dili, and starting to establish planned camps.

Security is still a major concern for the displaced, traumatised by the house burning, looting and violence. UNHCR urgently needs US$4.8 million for its Timor-Leste emergency operation.

Emergency in Timor-Leste pt.3: UNHCR's Air and Sea Relief Delivery Operation

Emergency in Timor-Leste pt.1: Recent Violence

June 2006

Recent violence in Timor-Leste has displaced about 100,000 people, with 65,000 sheltering in 40 squalid encampments in the capital, Dili, and a further 35,000 taking refuge in the countryside. A UNHCR assessment team visited the makeshift camps in Dili end May and reported the most critical humanitarian needs, aside from security, were food, clean water and shelter.

In a phased response to the crisis and as part of a joint UN effort, UNHCR deployed an emergency team to reinforce staff on the ground and is now airlifting in urgently needed supplies for some 30,000 displaced. The first flight, which arrived in Dili on June 5, brought 14 tonnes of lightweight family tents, plastic sheets and jerry cans from UNHCR stockpiles in Jordan.

UNHCR and its partners will use these items to establish new, planned camps for the displaced, where they can live in better conditions and assistance will be easier to deliver, until the security situation improves and they can return to their homes.

Emergency in Timor-Leste pt.1: Recent Violence

Emergency in Timor-Leste pt.5: The Emergency Operation Reaches Out

In mid-June UNHCR extended its emergency relief operation in Timor-Leste to include tens of thousands of people who fled violence in the capital Dili for districts in the countryside. An estimated 79,000 displaced people are in outlying districts with some 72,000 displaced in Dili.

The UN refugee agency has delivered shelter materials and emergency supplies to easterners and westerners in Hera village, 25 kilometres to the east of Dili. Most of the inhabitants of Hera are westerners and have fled their homes and taken to the hills. A smaller group of easterners have moved to the safety of a fenced naval compound, where they have been joined by easterners who fled Dili. UNHCR has also delivered shelter materials to Metinaro, 40 minutes outside of Dili, as well as to Auturo Island.

Despite sporadic violence, UNHCR continues to help the displaced who say they are still too scared to return to their homes and will wait in temporary shelters until the crisis ends.

Emergency in Timor-Leste pt.5: The Emergency Operation Reaches Out

Emergency in Timor-Leste pt.2: UNHCR Airlift Underway

A Boeing 747 bearing fresh aid for victims of the recent unrest in Timor-Leste landed in the northern Australian city of Darwin on 7 June. Because the plane is too large to land at Dili airport, aid is being ferried by land and air from Darwin. A second B-747 loaded with emergency supplies arrived the following day.

In total, 400 tonnes of supplies from our regional Middle Eastern stockpiles are expected to be sent to Timor-Leste. Supplies include lightweight family tents, plastic sheeting, jerry cans, blankets and kitchen sets.

Emergency in Timor-Leste pt.2: UNHCR Airlift Underway