To learn more about what our members have been up to and read about recent country developments, click on any country or organization below.
- Nepal – Forum for Protection of People’s Rights, Nepal (PPR)
- Australia – Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA)
- Iran – Association for Protection of Refugee Women and Children (HAMI)
- Japan – Japan Association for Refugees (JAR) and Forum for Refugees (FRJ)
- Pakistan – Refugee Rights Network Pakistan (RRN-Pakistan)
- India – Socio Legal Information Centre (SLIC)
- Taiwan – Taiwan Association for Human Rights (TAHR)
- Sri Lanka – SANRIM
- Cambodia – Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS)
- Philippines – Community and Family Services International (CFSI) – Urban Refugee Project
- Malaysia – Asylum Access Malaysia (AAM)
- Bangladesh – Association of Young Generation of Urdu-Speaking Community (AYGUSC)
- New Zealand – Amnesty International New Zealand
- New Zealand – Refugee Sector Strategic Alliance
Legal Aid/ Advocacy
During the period of December 2015 to June 2016, PPR Nepal has provided legal counseling to five asylum seekers/refugees. PPR Nepal has advocated for the protection and promotion of refugee rights in Nepal. One of PPR Nepal’s main avocations has been the abolishment of visa fees and over stay fines laid upon urban refugees. The Government of Nepal have since taken action on the visa fee and over stay fine waiving issue. These actions have since greatly benefited urban refugees who are in due process for third country resettlement as much of their prolonged status quo had been exacerbated by Government indecision. PPR Nepal and other CSOs have also been in dialogue with key stakeholders on the issues including but not limited to: different line ministries of the Government of Nepal, the UNHCR, the Police Authorities, Immigration Authorities, Legal Courts, Public Prosecutor and Private Lawyers.
PPR Nepal has been monitoring the immigration detention centre on a regular basis. During this period from December 2015 to June 2016; it is found that around 60 non-nationals have been kept in detention centre in Department of Immigration Office in Kathmandu and later deported to their respected country of origin on the grounds of violation of Nepal’s immigration laws. The Government of Nepal does notrecognise UNHCR mandated refugees and considers them illegal immigrants as per the Immigration Law of Nepal. There are currently no refugee or asylum laws in place.
Engagement With Government And UNHCR
PPR Nepal has been working closely with UNHCR and government agencies. Since December 2015, PPR Nepal organised a 1 day workshop with parliamentarians to sensitize them towards refugee issues and the need of national legislation to regulate refugees and asylum seekers. A joint programme organised by the Human Rights and Social Justice Committee of the Legislative Parliament of Nepal and PPR Nepal was attended by 45 parliamentarians, professor human rights activists, civil society leader and bureaucrats. The Director General of the Department of Immigration has acknowledged the issue of Immigration Detention following meetings with a representative of PPR Nepal.
Lobbying And Advocacy With UNHCR
PPR Nepal expressed its concern towards the issues raised by the urban refugees. For the fulfilment of which they organized various campaign and protests. PPR Nepal put its stand with the UNHCR to address the genuine demands of the urban refugees relating to monthly subsistence allowance, health and education and other livelihood issues.
Urban refugee communities have been facing challenges such obtaining admission into public schooling for children. Public schools in Nepal require a birth registration certificate, an important piece of document that currently being denied by the government. Urban Refugees have been struggling with healthcare and livelihood problems due to a limited subsistence allowance provided by the UNHCR which is inadequate for day to day needs. The monthly subsistence allowance has recently decreased by 25%.
Urban refugees are considered illegal immigrants in accordance to the Immigration Law of Nepal. The Government of Nepal does not recognise UNHCR mandated refugee statuses and urban refugees are often exposed to over stay fines to the amount of USD 5 per day with no fine limit. This often creates a problem for refugees looking to attain an ‘exit permit’ in order to transition to their third country settlement.
Recent years have seen numerous changes to Australia’s refugee and asylum seeker policies, largely as a political response to an increase in the number of asylum seekers arriving in Australia by boat (51,637 arrivals in the five years to December 2013) and a consequent increase in deaths at sea between Indonesia and Australia (at least 862 deaths recorded over the same period). Both of Australia’s major political parties have attempted to address this issue through deterrence-based policies which block access to protection in Australia and impose penalties on people who arrive by boat.
Refugee Status Determination (RSD) And Legal Advice Excision Policy
Under Australian law, a person who arrives by boat without authorisation is barred from applying for any sort of visa, including a Protection Visa, unless the Minister for Immigration personally intervenes to “lift the bar”. Known as excision, this policy previously applied only to specific outlying territories of Australia (such as Christmas Island) excised from the migration zone but has been extended to the whole of Australia since 2013. As a result, asylum seekers who arrive anywhere in Australia by boat cannot apply for a visa except at the discretion of the Minister for Immigration.
Offshore Processing Transfers To Nauru And Papua New Guinea
Asylum seekers who arrived in Australia by boat after 19 July 2013 are subject to offshore processing. Under this policy, asylum seekers are transferred to detention centres in Nauru and Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island where their claims are processed under the laws of those countries. If they are found to be refugees, they will be settled in a country other than Australia. Nauru is offering recognised refugees temporary visas with permanent protection available only if they choose to resettle in Cambodia. While PNG has adopted a National Refugee Policy which would allow for permanent settlement and a pathway to citizenship, in practice the process of settlement remains fraught. As of 30 April 2016, 1,367 asylum seekers were detained in Australian-funded Offshore Processing Centres – 469 (including 50 children) in Nauru and 898 on Manus Island. Additionally, 59 refugees were living in Manus Island’s East Lorengau Transit Centre and 28 refugees were living elsewhere (presumably still in PNG). This suggests that up to 992 refugees and asylum seekers sent to Manus Island remain in PNG. In Nauru and since October 2015, some people who were found to be a refugee have remained in the processing centre under “open centre” arrangements due to unavailability of housing in the community. It is unclear exactly how many are now in the community, although on 3 May 2016 the Minister for Immigration indicated around 700 were living in the community and 350 of those were employed. This suggests that the total number of refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru is between 1100 and 1200.
Border Protection Operation Sovereign Borders
Soon after the change of government in September 2013, the Australian Government established “Operation Sovereign Borders”, a military-style response to the movement of asylum seekers by boat to Australia, led by a three-star commander reporting directly to the Minister for Immigration. Australian naval and customs officers were issued with orders to turn back boats carrying asylum seekers “when it is safe to do so”. The Government reveals little information about turn back operations, claiming that doing so would jeopardise their success through providing intelligence to people smugglers. However, in the beginning of 2016, the Department of Immigration reported that since the first boat turn back on 19 December 2013 and until 31 December 2015, 23 boats carrying 685 people had been turned back. In June 2015, allegations were aired that officials of the Australian Security Intelligence Service had paid people smugglers to take 65 asylum seekers intercepted on the seas back to Indonesia. The Australian Government refused to comment on these claims “for security reasons”.
IRAN: ASSOCIATION FOR THE PROTECTION OF REFUGEE WOMEN AND CHILDREN (HAMI)
Currently (2016), there are 950,000 registered Afghans, 30,000 Iraqis, 620,000 Afghans holding Afghan passports and Iranian visas, and more than 2 million undocumented Afghans in Islamic republic of Iran. Around 97% of the Afghans are living in urban areas alongside Iranian nationals. Through the election of eleventh government of Islamic Republic of Iran and its fundamental differences with the previous ones in terms of domestic, regional, and international policies and especially because of its logical approach towards the roles the civil institutions play and their status, the way has been paved for positive interactions with non-governmental organizations and the discussion of neglected social issues.
Meanwhile, HAMI took advantage of the new opportunities to discuss the challenges facing immigrants and refugees living in Iran and trying to alter the common approaches to this issue in order to improve the living conditions of refugees, especially the millions of Afghan immigrants who are living in Iran. Preparation and presentation of professional reports to policy makers, negotiating influential national groups and individuals, holding various meetings with the presence of governmental officials, executive directors, members of parliament, judges, mass media, academics, and representatives from civil society and NGOs which are actively work with children and vulnerable women and immigrants, so that we could bring social sensitivity and attract the public attention to this issue and later asking for further changes in policies and laws
These were HAMI’s endeavours to reach its goals during the last two years and fortunately, in spite of the obstacles a large portion of those objectives are now accomplished and can be counted among our national honours.
- In a joint cooperation with the Ministry of Health and Medical Education and UNHCR representative in Iran they took responsibility for refugees’ health insurance and as a result, Afghan refugees and especially the vulnerable groups can receive the same services as Iranians in country’s hospitals.
- According to BAFIA’s guideline all Iranian women who have been married with foreigner men (both documented and undocumented immigrants) can register their marriage via BAFIA local branches in their provinces since April 2016.
- For the first time in juridical laws of Iran, refugees, asylum seekers and immigrant children and adolescents are considered in National Child Rights Bill.
- The Supreme Leader as the highest policy making official in the country, clearly emphasized that all Afghan children living in Iran, both the ones with and without legal residential documents, should have access to public schools. In academic year (2015-2016), more than 48,000 documents children are attending schools. This is in addition to the 350,000 immigrant children attending school and university.
- Additionally, in 20 April 2016, the government has approved equal education for all refugees and asylum seeker children in public schools same as Iranian children. According to this amendments, even undocumented children can enjoy the right of education with especial “education cards”. Based on another amendment, all immigrant children are excluded from any discrimination in compare with Iranian children. .
- The government has vulnerability criteria that are in line with international standards. Many of them get significant discounts for various fees. Additionally, NGOs and the State Welfare Organization (SWO) also provide them with disability items, assistance and other support.
- Supreme Council of Welfare and Social Security approved the program of recognizing the children without identity (mostly they are from illegal mix marriage between Iranian women and undocumented asylum seekers). This decision is important to recognize the number of children and kinds of their problems as well.
- Asylum seekers who enrolled their children in a school will not deported. The managing director of the Bureau for Aliens & Foreign Immigrants in Iran (BAFIA) announced in the case of police intervention, if immigrants and asylum seekers show their children’s enrollment letter from any schools in Iran, they certainly should not be expelled.
According to figures released by the Japanese Ministry of Justice in March 2016, 7,586 people applied for refugee status in Japan in 2015, a 52 percent increase from 2014. The number of appeals was 3,120, a 23 percent increased from 2014. Both numbers were the largest ever; however, only 27 people were recognised as refugees (“recognised refugees”) and a further 79 people were given resident status under special permission to stay based on humanitarian grounds. Although most asylum seekers in 2015 came from Asian countries, recognised refugees came from other countries including six from Afghanistan, three from Syrian, three from Ethiopia, three from Sri Lanka and two from Nepal.
Refugee Status Determination (RSD)
After the Ministry of Justice released a review plan of system practices for Refugee Status Determination (RSD) in September 2015, we have seen some changes. First, since the Administrative Appeal Act was amended in April 2016. RSD appeal interviews could be passed under certain specified conditions. In addition, undocumented asylum seekers have been under tightened control, especially regarding illegal working and temporarily travel permission inside Japan.
According to figures by civil society, over 60 Syrians have applied for refugee status in Japan so far, but only 6 Syrians were recognised as refugees and most of them were protected on humanitarian grounds. This does not afford the same status and rights as “recognised refugees”. Therefore, Syrians who were protected on humanitarian grounds are not allowed to receive the official integration program, and have much more difficulty inviting their family members to join them. On May 2016, the government announced that Japan would accept 150 Syrians over five years, not as a “recognised refugees” but rather as foreign exchange students.
Six families of urban Myanmarese refugees resettled from Malaysia in September 2015 completed their 180 days settlement support program in March 2016. The program is provided by a semi-governmental organization, Refugee Assistance Headquarters (RHQ) and includes Japanese language, culture and society courses. Refugees were integrated into local communities to start a new life in April.
There is a meeting that takes place every 3 months between the Ministry of Justice, Japan Federation of Bar Associations, and Forum for Refugees Japan on the implementation of an “Alternatives to Detention” pilot. Though a small number of releases took place previously, unfortunately so far this year (2016), not a single refugee has been released from detention into this program.
The pilot will be evaluated, and the International Detention Coalition is planning a visit to Japan in October 2016. JAR is anticipating a number of closed and open door meetings around that time.
Leading up to the Global Summits planned for September, Japan stakeholders will be seeking commitments from the Japanese Government to join in the global effort to develop a compact around responsibility sharing.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced in May that Japan will accept 150 Syrians over five years from 2017, accepting them not as refugees, but as students. The plan aims to empower Syrian youth whose educational opportunities were lost amid the escalating warfare in their country. Every year during the five-year period, 30 Syrian students are to be selected to attend Japanese language schools and universities.
A growing pro bono culture is developing in Japan, and a number of law firms have partnered with the Japan Association for Refugees to provide free legal assistance to refugees. Partnerships are now established with 10 law firms including 2 top Japanese Law Firms: TMI and Anderson Morii.
Strategic litigation is underway taking several rejected Syrian cases to court arguing that the government cannot grant a subsidiary status to those who are owed refugee status and all of the rights that come with that status.
Civil society has been providing services, financial aid or shelter to assist asylum seekers living in poverty. The total budget and the number of recipients of the government’s financial aid program for asylum seekers via RHQ decreased from 2014. FRJ launched a working group for preventing asylum seeker’s poverty in May.
Pakistan has deported 254 Afghan refugees last week reported media. The refugees who were arrested in different parts of KPK were handed over to the authorities on the other side of border a day before world refugee day. On the other hand, some 191 refugees are reported in detention in different jails of Punjab. The judicial authorities in the district Gujrat of Punjab have shown very harsh attitude by sentencing some refugees even three years of RI and fine with deportation thereafter. It is to be noted that these refugees are mostly unregistered refugees therefore their arrest and deportation is not bothered by any international agency.
Kohat media group in its report yesterday said that the district administration in Kohat has issued instruction to all the refugees in Kohat to leave their houses and work station and shift to camps. This information is spread through mosques and public announcement which has created big unrest in the refugee community.
In 2016, the Government of India has shown a positive gesture pertaining to the issuance of Long Term Visa (LTV) to Rohingya refugees in Delhi. UNHCR, India has been in talks with the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to lobby for the issuance of LTV to Rohingya refugees in particularly and to all refugees in general. This gesture from the FRRO especially for Rohingyas is a favourable development on the part of Government of Indian towards refugees and it showcases the strengthened relation and understanding that UNHCR have with the Government of India.
In the detention front, the situation remains to be grim as the Rohingyas who are detained in West Bengal continues to languish in correctional homes. SLIC through its sister concern organisation, Human Rights Law Network (HRLN) has been relentlessly making legal intervention to address the issues in West Bengal and other parts of India. HRLN has filed writ petitions for securing their release and their access to UNHCR. HRLN has recently secured a positive response in West Bengal where a matter was discharged by the court and accordingly 5 Rohingyas were released. In Kashmir, a minor Rohingya girl who was trafficked was rescued by HRLN intervention. HRLN unit in Assam also successfully intervened in the matter related to two minor Rohingya girls who were earlier lodged in a children home. Through HRLN intervention the girls are now transferred to a shelter home in Delhi and they have been given access to UNHCR for registration process.
Since last year, Taiwan Association for Human Rights has assisted 15 exiled Tibetans who seek permit of residence in Taiwan. Although we have passed the article 16 of Immigration Act in Taiwan on 2009, however, the article closed the door to the cases who entered Taiwan after Dec. 31 2008. After the Tibetans’ petition, the government still didn’t open the review process for them. Some of the asylum seekers from China were even repatriated to their home country last year. Asylum seekers who entered Taiwan illegally still be sent to the immigration detention centre. 5 asylum seekers from China who entered Taiwan illegally still facing lawsuit and their case is still reviewing in the court until now.
After the election on January, the ruling party changed into DPP this year. DPP also become the majority party in the parliament. The draft of Refugee Act started to review in the parliament, and the new government is more open mind on it. The article 16 of Immigration Act also revised, and allow the stateless Tibetans who entered Taiwan before May, could apply for review and seek the residence.
The original text of article 16 of Immigration Act: “Stateless people from India or Nepal who have entered the Taiwan Area between 21st May 1999 and 31st December 2008 and cannot be repatriated may be allowed to reside in the Taiwan Area by the NIA if their status has been identified by the Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs Commission.”
Here Is The Link
As at 31 May 2016, there are 585 asylum-seekers and 796 recognized refugees. The total number of refugees resettled in 2016 is 81 individuals, (69 persons to the United States of America, 11 persons to Canada and 01 to Sweden). In May 2016, 18 new asylum-seekers registered with UNHCR and 2 new-borns. UNHCR undertakes individual assessments of Extremely Vulnerable Individuals (both refugees and asylum-seekers) in order to identify their problems and refer them for assistance or appropriate follow up and provide material support where possible or necessary.
In January, after a meeting between UNHCR and the Cambodian government, it was agreed that the Cambodian refugee office would register and process the 194 Montagnards housed in Phnom Penh who had been seeking asylum in Cambodia. These asylum seekers had been in Cambodia for varying lengths of time beginning from January 2015 to September 2015
The registration process is underway. Some were refused after the first primary counselling interview as not having a case for refugee status. Two have been refused and an appeal has been made for one of these families. Positive decisions have not been communicated to the asylum seekers and it is not clear if they have been signed off by the Minister.
3 Montagnards who arrived in December 2014 were recognised as refugees and departed for the Philippines at the end of May in 2016
Vietnam had demanded the return of all Montagnards including the 13. However, Cambodia said it was following the agreement with UNHCR made in January. Vietnam government and police officials escorted by the Cambodian Refugee office visited one of the sites where Montagnards live and promised they would help them return voluntarily. The Montagnard asylum seekers told them they did not want to go back and they did not believe them. The Vietnamese left the site fairly quickly and abandoned the plan to visit other sites. The asylum seekers used phones to photograph and we understand the whole episode was screened live to various actors in Cambodia and other places.
Only one Rohingya refugee remains out of 6 who came from Nauru. Four Iranians have returned to Iran and one Burmese Muslim Returned to Myanmar.
Other Refugees And Asylum Seekers
The granting of refugee status for the non Montagnard group is proceeding slowly. Most of those who have refugee status and most of the asylum seekers want to be in a third country.
Refugee week was celebrated with a sports and singing carnival for 250 and a Panel at night. Speakers at the panel included IOM, UNHCR and JRS
PHILIPPINES: COMMUNITY AND FAMILY SERVICES INTERNATIONALL (CFSI) – URBAN REFUGEE PROJECT
The Philippines has long been recognised as a refugee friendly country, and the issuance of Refugee Visa (47b visa) has already been etched in its Immigration Law of 1941. However, it was only in 1981 that the country became a signatory to the United Nation Convention on Refugees, and henceforth began processing application for asylum and refugee status determination on its own through the Department of Justice (DOJ). Until now, the country continues to provide legal protection to asylum seekers and refugees, many of whom are already in the country upon application for asylum. In 2009, the Government cooperated with UNHCR and IOM for “Emergency Transit Mechanism (ETM)” by providing legal protection to refugees in-transit while their resettlement to a third country is being processed. In September 2015, the Department Order 793 was issued by the DOJ stipulating specific rights of refugees which include rights to travel, to work, and to study. It also provided some measures for the prevention of statelessness.
To address the concern for formal travel documents, the Philippine Government began issuing machine readable “passport-like” travel documents to refugees beginning February 2016. The “refugee passport” issued by the Philippine Government is being recognized by many countries.
As part of the policy development strategy being initiated by UNHCR and DOJ, a government Steering Committee for the development of policy that could improve the situation of refugees in the Philippines was formed. A series of meetings are currently being undertaken to identify policy gaps and to discuss possible interim measures to allow for refugee access to government services and possible humanitarian assistance to them. The recent national election last May 2016, and the subsequent changes in government administration has slowed down this process, but it is expected to continue throughout the year. The basic obstacle identified by most government agencies is that, social services and employment opportunities are generally restricted to non-citizens. Foreign nationals including refugees must meet certain economic qualifications to remain in the country.
To expand the support base for refugees, an on-going dialogue with faith-based organizations, particularly the Catholic Church is also being made including civil society organizations like the CFSI.
An effort to incorporate the voices of refugees is also being done by CFSI and UNHCR, by conducting a series of thematic consultations with refugees and asylum seekers with invited representatives from concerned government agencies. In March 2016, two consultation meetings were done on access to education attended by parents with refugee children and youth to identify problems related to education and to ensure that all children are enrolled in school. In June 2016, a consultation with refugees with chronic illness, disability and the elderly was held. Four more consultations and dialogue have been scheduled in July and August 2016 for access to work for refugees, asylum seekers, women, and naturalization for durable solution. In these consultations and dialogues, the integrated and participatory approach to need assessment and refugee protection is being emphasized.
Legal Aid / Advocacy
Legal advocacy for traditional lawsuits such as administrative appeals against non-recognition of refugee status is really difficult in these days. We do not have specific statistics, but refugees won less than 5 cases in this period.
But in some strategic litigation related to airport asylum procedure, decisions regarding subsidy procedure were made in favor of refugees.
Korean government has been greatly modifying its refugee policies in an attempt to find false-asylum seekers, rather than focusing on the identification of refugees, as the number of asylum-seekers almost doubled every year[e.g 2013 : 1574, 2014 : 2896, 2015 : 5711 (person)].
2016 is the third year since the Refugee Act was enacted. Korean government thinks the growing statistics of asylum seeker is related to the Refugee Act’s overprotection, and thus is trying to revise the act in such a way that weakens procedural rights during RSD.
In 28th of April, A constitutional court (CT)’s decision was made regarding a key legal provision of immigration detention[Article 63] after 3 years since the strategic litigation was filed. In the end, CT dismissed the case because the applicant, an asylum seeker, was released after filing the lawsuit. 5 judges ruled in favor of dismissal and the other 4 judges ruled in favor of the applicant. Yet, the minority opinion (4 out of 9 judges) ruled that the Article is un-constitutional, and 2 judges among the majority (5 out of 9 judges) noted that there still needs to be a revision to the Article. So this court decision could be used as an advocacy tool.
Korean NGOs published a report on airport asylum procedure in Korea. We conducted intensive interviews of 24 refugees who went through the procedure. The English version of the report will be shared in printed copies at APCRR6.
Engagement With Governments And UNHCR
This year is the second year of the refugee resettlement pilot project. Quasi-council consisting of NGOs and government officials has been working on the resettlement issue.
Social Issues Such As Education; Health; Livelihoods
No specific development was made.
New UNHCR Cards
As of May 2016, there were as many as 151,560 refugees and asylum seekers registered with the UNHCR, the majority of which (137, 261 people) continue to be Myanmar refugees. The remaining 14, 299 refugees come from countries such as Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Syria, Afghanistan and several more. Government officials in the past have criticized UNHCR over the issuance of refugee cards claiming, amongst other things, that it is a reason that refugees come to Malaysia. More recently, media reports exposed syndicates offering fake UNHCR cards for as low as RM120-RM170.
On the 21st of June 2016, the UNHCR introduced a new, enhanced refugee ID card along with a card verification app to combat identity fraud and counterfeiting. Some features of the card include enhanced 3D holograms, bar codes and a large SQR code. This is supported by enhanced biometric data collection at the UNHCR office including a retina, 10 fingers and face scan. The verification app called UNHCR VERIFY-MY app is available on Apple and Android, and will enable law enforcement authorities to easily verify authenticity, as it is also usable offline. It is hoped that this new card will address some of the government’s concerns about criminality and security, and subsequently build and strengthen practical cooperation between the UNHCR and the government.
Refugee Work Rights
There is no legal or administrative framework recognizing or providing any rights to refugees in Malaysia. Therefore, even if refugees are recognized by the UNHCR, they are not allowed to work legally. This results in a high number of refugees who seek jobs on the informal market to support themselves, and who are often subject to abuse and exploitation.
In March 2016 it was reported that discussions were taking place at government level regarding the possibility of permitting refugees registered with UNHCR. It will examine possible areas of employment, keeping safety, easy monitoring and appropriateness in mind. These discussions are rooted in a shelved pilot project involving the Human Resources and Home Ministry amongst others regarding employment permits, particularly for Rohingya refugees. The UNHCR estimates that monetary contributions generated by a legalized refugee work place could amount to RM 152 million in annual revenue based on the same levy rates for foreign workers. They further state that their positive contribution would indeed offset the cost of assimilating and settling them. SUHAKAM (Human Rights Commission of Malaysia) is of the view that employment privileges should not be granted to a certain group of refugees only. This is in response to the government’s proposal to allow Rohingyas to obtain jobs in some sectors and 3000 Syrian refugees to be accepted over a period of 3 years and granted shelter, employment and education for children.
Personal Story: For a personal story depicting the typical and current challenges faced by a family unit of refugees in Penang, Malaysia, see this New York Times article: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/06/world/asia/rohingya-malaysiamyanmar.html?emc=eta1&_r=0
Release From Belantik: An Ongoing Concern
In response to the Andaman Sea ‘boat crisis’ in May 2015, whereby dozens of boats carrying thousands of desperate Rohingyas and Bangladeshis were afloat in the Andaman Sea after not being allowed to land in Malaysia, Thailand or Indonesia, Malaysia eventually agreed to provide temporary shelter for up to a year pending resettlement or repatriation for around 1,100 people. Of the 1,100, almost 400 of them have been identified as Rohingyas and were detained in Belantik, Kedah where the UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations had little access to them.
A year later, most of the Bangladeshis have been repatriated but as few as 50 Rohingyas have been put forward for resettlement. The majority of the Rohingya remain in the detention center and their suffering and the human rights abuse continues. According to UNHCR Malaysia, by the time the UNHCR was permitted to access the site in August last year, many had been taken ill with tuberculosis.
It was also recently reported that 4 foreign nationals have been charged in May 2016 with human trafficking in Wang Kelian near the Thai-Malaysia border where the police found 139 mass graves last year.
Updates On UNHCR Processing and Protection
UNHCR in Malaysia conducts all activities related to the reception, registration, documentation and status determination of refugees in Malaysia, in addition to providing welfare support to some recognized refugees. From 2015, UNHCR strengthened the implementation of its partner referral network, which creates a streamlined way for NGOs and UNHCR to identify vulnerable asylum-seekers for expedited processing with the UNHCR and supporting them for services. However, some populations, notably the Rohingyas, continue to face acute protection challenges without UNHCR documentation. With law enforcement regularly arresting undocumented refugees, the large numbers of unregistered Rohingya refugees that have limited access to UNHCR registration, and a lack of NGO capacity to provide services and refer them for expedited registration, means that thousands of them are at risk of arbitrary arrest, detention and unable to provide for their basic needs. It is hoped that a new strategy can be implemented soon with the cooperation of the Government, UNHCR, NGOs and refugees to ensure better protection for this vulnerable population.
The Urdu-speaking community is living in 116 settlements all over the country. It is estimated that there are 4-5 hundred thousand community members are living in the camp like situation since 1972. Since then the community were identified internationally as “Refugee”, “Stateless”, “Internally Displaced People”, “People of Nowhere”. Locally the community was called as “Bihari”, “Mohajir”, “Non-Local”, “Non-Bengali” and “Stranded Pakistanis”.
In 1947, Indian subcontinent was divided based on the two nations theory and on a communal mandate which ultimately vulnerable the religious minority. This divided forced the Hindu, Shikhs and Christian community migrated from East and West Pakistan to India and Muslims community from India to the then East and West Pakistan. The migration was taken place for many reasons which include communal riots, socio-economic and political issues.
The community was migrated not alone from Indian states of Bihar but from other states of Indian such Uttar Pradesh, Kolkata, Assam, Murshidabad, Maddhya Pradesh etc. The community who migrated from India to the then East Pakistan was only brought with them only their language and culture which is Urdu.
In Bangladesh there are religious, ethnic and linguistic minority are living for thousand years from now. After the independence of Bangladesh in 1971, the Constitution of Bangladesh does not include the linguistic minority. Since then the community is perpetually discriminated in the society. Due to absence of the recognition of citizenship the community was mostly identified as Stateless.
In 2001, the 10-young members of the community took an initiative and filed a writ petition with the High Court of Bangladesh to recognize the community as citizen of Bangladesh. The High Court Division of Bangladesh Supreme Court recognizes the community as Citizen of Bangladesh and instructed to the Bangladesh Election Commission to include the petitioners in the voters list.
Voter Registration and National ID Card:
In 2006, when the then Caretaker Government decided to make a fresh voter list and introduce National ID Card to all citizens of the country the community also demanded to include them in this process. After a long lobbying and advocacy with the Government Officials it was almost firm the Urdu speaking community left out from the process. Then 11-memebr of the community filed a writ petition again to clarify the citizenship issues and include them in the NID and voter list process. The then Election Commission mobilized a special arrangement to enlist the community in the process. The community were issued National ID card as a proof of citizenship. In 2008, the first time community was participated in the General Election and practiced their rights to franchised. After all the legal procedures and administrative arrangements, there is absent of political wills. The political government of Bangladesh only uses the community as a voter’s bank. The political parties contacted the community during national or local elections. The administrations of Bangladesh are still denying the community as its citizens. Various department of the Government are reluctant to issue legal documents for the community.
The concerned authority of passport is still denying issuing the Passport (a travel documents). Three applications submitted to the passport office of Dhaka, capital city of Bangladesh. The low profile officer of the investigating authority for passport rejected the application by saying that the applicants are stranded Pakistanis. Though the application consists the NID of Bangladesh issued by the National Election Commission. While discussing the investigating officer for passport they have a verbal statement that the NID doesn’t cover the citizenship. What does Citizenship proof mean?
High Court case on Eviction etc.:
The community many times faces eviction threats, cut off the electricity, water connection etc. Over the time the community members/organization filed a total of 9 Writ Petition at different times and period. For all the writ petitions at the primary stage, the High Court Division passed order to maintain status quo for the services provided to the camp peoples and not to evict till final decision.
But very surprisingly, January 25, 2016 all the nine writ petitions were placed for a hearing at the High Court bench of Justice Moyeenul Islam Chowdhury and Justice JBM Hasan. After two months long legal the bench of the High Court Division on 29.03.2016 discharged rules against the eviction. Besides, the court ordered for the rehabilitation of the community having the national ID.
The verdict of the High Court Division was once again put the community on an uncertainty whether the community will resides their only address in the camp or not? If the Government will take move what will happen in their fate. How they will survive in the open sky?
However, on 16.05.2016 the Appellate Division of Bangladesh Supreme Court passed a stay order against the High Court Verdict and recently on 14.07.2016 the Appellate Division of Bangladesh Supreme Court extended the tenure of the order. This is completely an interim arrangement for the community but uncertainty is continuing….
A heinous attacked was taken place at the Kurmitola Camp, near Kalsi area of Mirpur where 9 lives in the camps were burnt and one camp inmate were shot dead. This was happening to occupy the land of the as this place is a costly land because of the many infrastructural development around the area. Influential vested interested group of the locality wanted to occupy the camp land by saying that the camp people are disturbing elements for the locality. In this connection a group of miscreants started notorious activities in front of the camp. By seeing the situation camp people resist them to stop such activities. They were angrily attacked on the camp and put fired in camp where 10 houses were burnt and damages and 9 people burnt alive. To stop the mob police fired where 1 person shot dead on the spot. Later on September 6, 2014 Yasin Ali, who lost nine family members in a fire when miscreants torched his house during clashes at Mirpur’s Kalshi in June, has died in a road accident in Dhaka.
On August 5, 2015, The High Court has asked the government to explain why the victims of Kalshi incident should not be compensated. In response to a writ petition, the High Court bench of Justice Kazi Rezaul Haque and Justice Abu Taher Mohammad Saifur Rahman came up with the ruling.
In a press report it is found that there are 6 police cases have been filed among them 5 cases accused the camp dwellers those are in fact victim of the incidents. One case filed against unidentified miscreants.
New Citizenship Act
The present Government of Bangladesh has drafted a citizenship law for its citizens. The draft of the Citizenship Bill 2016 approved by the cabinet. In a discussion meeting speakers slamming the draft and termed it “fantastic absurd”. They criticized the provision of the bill which bars expatriate Bangladeshis holding dual citizenship from participating in politics, saying it would be “fantastic absurd” if the provision was kept while signing the bill into law. The draft is now at the Law Ministry awaiting the vetting process. The bill will replace the existing Citizenship Act 1951, and Bangladesh Citizenship Temporary Provisions Order 1972. This new law will also affect the rights of the Urdu speaking and is a threat to put them in a situation on statelessness.
New Zealand’s Resettlement Quota Increase
The New Zealand Government recently decided to up its annual resettlement intake of UNHCR quota refugees by 250, beginning in 2018. The resettlement quota was originally set up in 1987 and has since remained at 750 refugees a year. Amnesty International New Zealand, civil society partners and domestic service providers for refugees largely considered this increase disappointing. They had spent considerable efforts campaigning for the quota to be doubled to 1500, including by collecting submissions from hundreds of ordinary New Zealanders calling for a significant quota increase. However, the increase is a step in the right direction and provides opportunities for further engagement.
New Zealand’s Contribution To Negotiating The Global Compact
Ahead of the UN High-Level Meeting on Refugees and Migrants in September, New Zealand has confirmed they will be negotiating as part of the CANZ (Canada, Australia, New Zealand) group. Amnesty International has voiced strong support for the UN Secretary General’s proposal to create a new ‘Global Compact’ on responsibility-sharing for refugees and has provided details on how this system could work in practice. Amnesty International has also urged the New Zealand government to play a constructive role in setting up the ‘Global Compact’, particularly as they will be holding the Presidency of the UN Security Council in September and chairing the Annual Tripartite Consultations on Resettlement in 2016-17.
The formation of the Refugee Sector Strategic Alliance (RSSA) took place in 2013 at a retreat organised by RASNZ and the Christchurch Resettlement Service. This was attended by a wide range of NGO’s, refugee led community organisations and some Government officials. It took awhile to develop however and in the last 12 months it has reorganized itself with new Co-Chairs and a volunteer Executive Officer.
A full member is an NGO providing services to refugees or refugee led community organisation. They must be registered as an Incorporated Society or a Charitable Trust. An Associate member is the same as the above but not registered. An Observer member is an organisation that is registered whose Charter precludes them from participating in collective advocacy.
Currently the RSSA has 15 full members; 2 Associate members; 5 Observers. The total is 22.
In the 2016-17 RSSA Business Plan there is a goal to grow the membership by 25%.
Currently 8 RSSA members are members of APRRN.
Response To The Syrian Crisis
The mass migration of Syrians across Europe received extensive media coverage in NZ and the Government agreed to an emergency intake of 600 extra refugees over and above the existing annual refugee quota of 750. The 600 extra Syrian refugees have started arriving mid 2016 and will continue to arrive in small intakes until mid 2018. RSSA are extremely disappointed such a small number is being taken. The public support was such that many Churches and others were prepared to take these Syrians in much larger numbers.
There has been a major push here in NZ to pressure the Government to increase the refugee quota. It is 750 per annum and has not changed in 28 years. Amnesty International NZ organised a combined submission and many organisations, like RSSA, made separate submissions. The double-the-quota campaign received a lot of media coverage as it was during the time of the Syrian mass migration across Europe. The outcome is the Government agree to take an extra 250 per annum but not until the 600 Syrian refugees have arrived. RSSA and all other submitters were extremely disappointed at the level of this increase and feel that NZ is not pulling its wait in addressing the worldwide refugee crisis.
The issue for the NGO’s with the double-the-quota and the Syrian emergency response was, we all supported much higher numbers but only if the resourcing matched the increase. Currently most NGO’s providing services to refugees here are well under funded.
RSSA was invited and funded by Immigration NZ to send a representative to the ATCR meeting in Geneva last month. Co Chair Abann Yor represented the RSSA at this and also attended the NGO consultation along with 2 of our member organisations. As NZ is Chairing this meeting next year Immigration NZ wanted RSSA to attend as RSSA is the only network they formally recognise. Red Cross NZ (an Observer member of RSSA) will be the NGO partnering Immigration NZ in the Chairing of the 2017 Geneva meetings.
Refugee Resettlement Strategy
Immigration NZ set up this strategy in 2013. There has been consultation with NGO’s and Refugee background communities prior to its establishment and many members are involved with two Key Stakeholder groups established by Immigration NZ. One is in Auckland the other Wellington.
Work is currently being done on conducting hearings on Bhutan in the United States Senate Subcommittee On East Asian and Pacific Affairs as well as the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Given the current presidential elections, these hearings will most likely be delayed until the next year. Dialogue was established with the department of state; Bhutan, Nepal and India desks pertaining to the resolution of protracted Bhutanese refugees still in processing. There is serious concern of ongoing human rights violations in Bhutan, especially involving forced statelessness and a lack of financial assistance for refugees remaining in Bhutanese camps in Nepal.
Through mutual advocacy with Senator Shaheen, a letter was sent to the Prime Minister of Bhutan urging for the resettlement of remaining Bhutanese refugees and a need for future reunification of family members. The United States has welcome more than 85,000 Bhutanese refugees for resettlement.