November 2015 Country Update Newsletter
To learn more about what our members have been up to and read about recent country developments, click on any country or organization below.
A large volume of people continue to leave the country as a result of a bad economy and continued insecurity. Refugees face violence at the border;
witnesses have reported instances of shooting and killing at the Iranian and Turkish borders as guards shoot at those attempting informal border crossings. As for the occasional returnees to Afghanistan, most are deportees from Europe and Iran. Refugees who attempt unsuccessfully to register as asylum seekers are deported from Europe and receive only a small amount of subsistence money from IOM. Deported asylum seekers from Iran receive nothing and migrants who attempt to enter Europe informally face legal troubles for accusations of fake passports.
Organization Update: Tabish Organization
Tabish is currently working with a large number of returnees and people in IDP camps, each of which have anywhere from 150 to 800 families. Tabish provides them with basic shelter, informal education, food, psycho-social and legal aid services alongside other NGOs and the UN. However, serious problems and widespread abuse are rampant in camps. Many people live under tents or mud tents, there are no jobs, clinics, or schools. Many families are forced to beg and there are high levels of child exploitation and sexual abuse, drug addiction and prostitution. Overall, a lack of services and funding continues to prevent the government from providing the services people in the camps really need.
Since March 2015, Australia continues to implement its boat turn-back policy and despite a changing of Prime Ministers, old practices continue. 92 Vietnamese asylum seekers were returned to Vietnam this year with the cooperation of the Vietnamese Government. Earlier this summer, two Australian High Court decisions ruled the Immigration Minister’s attempt to limit the number of Protection Visas granted invalid; the decision prevented the Minister’s cap for the current financial year from being implemented.
In regard to Syrian refugees, in September the former Prime Minister Tony Abbott pledged to support and resettle 12,000 Syrian refugees. The plan was to resettle the majority in Sydney and Melbourne, where the majority of the Australian Syrian population already lives.
Organization Update: Refugee Council of Australia
New research released by the Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) points to possible discrimination against refugees who arrived by boat, compared to arrival via airplane. These refugees are eligible for citizenship after being in Australia for four years on a permanent humanitarian visa. Through 188 interviews, RCOA found that long delays in processing disproportionately affected refugees who arrived by boat, with wait times post citizenship application submission averaging 215 days, rather than the 80 average for all applicants reported by the Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection.
Additionally, many refugees who arrived via boat and successfully completed the citizenship process did not receive invitations to monthly citizenship ceremonies, or received text messages stating that an upcoming ceremony was cancelled, only to never receive another invitation afterwards.
APRRN sent a delegation to Australia and New Zealand in September 2015 for a two-week regional protection advocacy and outreach trip. Representatives traveled through both countries to meet with government officials and discuss protection concerns and possible steps both countries can take to address these concerns. The delegation presented country-specific recommendations to both the Australian and New Zealand governments. Click here to read the Country Briefing Sheets.
Khmer Krom: Since the incorporation of the Kampuchea Krom into Vietnam in 1945, the rights of the Khmer Krom people have been rigidly suppressed. As ethnic Khmer, the Government of Cambodia recognises Khmer Krom refugees and promises citizenship when they settle in Cambodia. However, no unambiguous regulations on how Khmer Krom may obtain identification papers are provided. Today, around 30 percent of Khmer Krom remain without Cambodian citizenship and thus face severe obstacles when trying to obtain birth certificates for their children, access the state education or health system, ask for a bank loan or seek employment.
Ethnic Vietnamese: One of the most significant issues faced by the ethnic Vietnamese community, which has lived in Cambodia for generations, is their inability to obtain identification papers. Even those who were born in Cambodia are refused citizenship which they are entitled to under the 1996 Law on Nationality (LN), art. 4(2)(a) and art 7- 17. According to this law, children born from parents living legally in Cambodia will be considered citizens. The stateless status of many ethnic Vietnamese has translated into two major issues. First, without citizenship Vietnamese do not have access to land ownership. Instead, they often live in poverty as fishermen or vendors in isolated floating villages. Second, statelessness has resulted in low education rates for ethnic Vietnamese. Without birth certificates, children are disallowed from attending state schools.
Organization Update: MIRO (Minority Rights Organization)
Minority Rights Organization (MIRO) is based in Phnom Penh Cambodia and works to protect and promote minority rights, including those of the Khmer Krom, in Cambodia. MIRO is currently focusing on two target groups: the Khmer Krom forced migrants from Southern Vietnam, and ethnic Vietnamese who have been living in Cambodia for generations.
An ongoing land dispute continues since 2007, concerning over one hundred families in three Khmer Krom refugee communities of the Borie Chhulasa district, Takeo province. The land disputes involve a lack of land titles for building homes and farming. MIRO has submitted an intervention letter to the provincial government and is still awaiting a response.
MIRO has also submitted intervention letters to the provincial government regarding a detention case in the Dara Kum community and the refusal of authorities to renew ID cards issued in the 1980s for 15 Khmer Krom in Kampong Chhang province. Both intervention letters are still awaiting a response.
Positive updates include the issuing of a certification letter from the Kampong Chhnang local authority (Sangkat) to allow ethnic Vietnamese children to access state schools.
There has been no sign of any further asylum seeker arrivals.
One family remains here, having been given a birth certificate for a new born child, but no steps have been taken to seek residency or citizenship for any of the family members. This family was also contacted by the Department of Immigration due to running a business without proper visa documentation, with results pending.
As of July 2015, there are 13,170 people of concern (PoCs) registered with the UNHCR in Indonesia, consisting of 5440 refugees and 7730 asylum seekers. A total of 3773 children have been registered; 1196 of whom are people identified as unaccompanied minors and separated children (192 refugees, 1004 asylum seekers). The majority of all people of concern are from Afghanistan (58%) followed by Myanmar (30%), and 482 of them (40%) are currently detained. PoCs are also from Somalia, Iran, Iraq, Sri Lanka, Palestine, Pakistan, Sudan, Ethiopia, and Nigeria.
So far in 2015, 2897 new individuals have been registered with UNHCR. In 2014, 5659 new asylum seekers were registered by UNHCR, representing a 32% decrease from the 8332 individuals registered in 2013. The UNHCR has also registered 1001 Myanmar asylum seekers who arrived by boat in Aceh Province. There has been a fair amount of public support to accept asylum seekers from Myanmar arriving by boat. In addition, the Indonesian Government has agreed to allow Rohingya migrants to stay for a one year period.
The number of PoCs in immigration detention facilities at the end of July 2015 reached 4620 persons (35% of the total active population). This includes 3474 asylum seekers and 1146 refugees, of whom 840 were female and 1187 were children, including 482 unaccompanied minors. Around 30% of current detainees are accommodated in temporary facilities under immigration supervision as all immigration detention centers have surpassed their capacity. Since the beginning of 2015, 730 PoCs have been released from detention and placed in IOM-run community accommodation.
There are five locations where Rohingya boat arrivals are currently being accommodated. Four of them are located in Aceh, and another one is located in Medan, Sumatra Utara.
In Aceh, they are accommodated in: (1) Blang Adoe, Lhokseumawe, North Aceh; (2) Kuala Langsa, Langsa City; (3) Bayeun, East Aceh, and at (4) Lhokbani, Langsa City.
As of the 10th August 2015, UNHCR notes that there are a total of 950 Rohingyas from Myanmar in all five locations. In Aceh, there are 315 Rohingyas in Lhokseumawe, 102 in Kuala Langsa, 331 in Bayeun, and 159 in Lhokbani. In total, there are 288 adult males, 141 adult females and 521 children. UNHCR also noted that there are 328 children identified as unaccompanied and separated children: 127 in Lhokseumawe, 40 in Langsa, 97 in Bayeun, 46 in Lhokbani and 18 in Medan.
There is currently a draft of the President’s decree that provides a clarified way to handle asylum seekers and refugees. However, SUAKA (Indonesian Civil Society Network for Refugee Rights Protection) finds that the decree lacks a detailed explanation of processes, includes too many ambiguities that would allow detention and rights violations, and does not guarantee the provision of legal rights to asylum seekers and refugees, including education, health and work.
A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the National Human Rights Commission of the Republic of Indonesia (Komisi Nasional Hak Asasi Manusia Republik Indonesia, Komnas HAM) and UNHCR was issued on the 28th of July 2015; its commits UNHCR and Komnas HAM to cooperate closely and provide mutual support. This cooperation specifically includes involving the Government of Indonesia to ensure that the human rights of refugees and asylum seekers are met. It also aims to end the detention of refugees and asylum seekers for immigration related purposes and to assist with the integration of mixed Indonesian families. Activities are aimed at increasing community knowledge include promoting an understanding of human rights of refugees and asylum seekers in hosting communities, promoting birth registration practices and organising awareness raising trainings against human trafficking. The MoU is valid for three years and all activities will be monitored during regular progress-checking meetings.
With the recent wave of immigration to Europe, many Afghans continue to try and cross into Europe via Iran and Turkey. To combat this irregular migration from Afghanistan, the Iranian Government has implemented an identification plan to identify all undocumented Afghanis in Iran and gain more control over border crossings. Given the current insecurity in Afghanistan, including in Ghonduz province which has just fallen to Taliban insurgents, the Iranian authorities are particularly concerned about security and entry via irregular channels.
The Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has ordered that all Afghan children in Iran be permitted to attend school regardless of their residency status. The decision provided around 50,000 undocumented children with education ID cards to enroll in public schools. Now, over 360,000 Afghan students have been legally registered in public schools in Iran.
Organization Update: HAMI (Association for Protection of Women and Children)
HAMI commenced negotiations with the Deputy President for Legal Affairs in Pakistan, leading to the creation of a steering committee to address nationality and registration issues of children of mixed marriages. Due to Iranian civil law, children acquire nationality through their fathers; therefore, children of mixed marriages from Iraqi or Afghani fathers are not Iranian nationals. After long negotiations, a bill to allow the acquisition of Iranian nationality through an Iranian mother was presented for discussion to Iran’s parliament with results pending.
The Japanese Ministry of Justice released a draft of the fifth “Basic Plan for Immigration Control” on 26 June 2015. This document was drafted based on the final report by the 6th Conference for Immigration Control Policies as well as by the Sub-committee on Refugee Recognition System, in which the director of the Forum for Refugees Japan was a member. The Basic Plan for Immigration Control aims to specify government policies for the upcoming five years. Included in the Basic Plan for Immigration Control is a revised refugee recognition system that would include fast track pre-screening, limitations on reapplication, increased opportunities for humanitarian status provision for Syrians or other people who flee from conflicts and a review of interpretation of “particular social group” and probability as a refugee.
Since the government collected public comments on the Basic Plan for Immigration Control, civil society organised a press conference to discuss concerns and encourage civil society to submit their comments. UNHCR, NGOs and bar associations released their own comments; APRRN also issued a statement. The Basic Plan for Immigration Control was revised and the final version, reflecting comments from civil society, was released on 15 September 2015.
Some revisions will be implemented after the Refugee Act is amended, while others will be carried out through notifications or operational changes. System practices are likely to change in 2016.
Additionally, the pilot project for the third country resettlement program ended at the end of the 2014 fiscal year. A new group of refugees arrived via the regular program from Malaysia in September 2015. From 2015 onwards, Japan will accept urban Myanmarese refugees, including ethnic minorities currently in Malaysia. They will also accept family members of resettled refugees from the pilot program who came from camps on Thai-Myanmar border.
Through the Forum for Refugees Japan’s “Alternatives to Detention” project, implemented in conjunction with the Japan Federation of Bar Associations (JFBA) and the Ministry of Justice, two cases were referred during the reporting period. Civil society provided shelter, legal aid (access to a lawyer) and psycho-social support in a coordinated case management. Another “Alternatives to Detention” project case referred in February received humanitarian status in June. The three organizations involved had two meetings, one of which was a working level meeting.
At the end of August 2015, 153,880 refugees and asylum seekers were registered with UNHCR in Malaysia; 143,050 are from Myanmar, including some 48,310 Chins, 48,800 Rohingyas, 12,290 Myanmar Muslims, 7,180 Rakhines & Arakanese, among other ethnicities from Myanmar. The majority are in the greater Kuala Lumpur metro area and in Johor Baru.
As of late last year, immigration was only releasing Myanmar refugees from immigration detention centers. As of mid-2015, immigration is only releasing Rohingyas from immigration detention. A new working group on ‘arrest and detention’ was created in October 2014 and there have been periodic meetings in which UNHCR has provided updates about the situation on the ground. However, there is still very little engagement between the government and local organizations. UNHCR has finally been given some access to the migrants who arrived by boat who were housed in the Belantik immigration detention center in June. UNHCR has put in a release request for all 372 identified Rohingyas in that detention center. There has also been an increase in the number of Rohingya unaccompanied minors released from other detention centers.
Other social issues involving education, healthcare, sexual and gender based violence, and livelihoods are very much “business as usual”. UNHCR has been taking the lead as respective working groups have been established individually for these issues for a long while now. Unverified information suggests that the Chins are no longer considered a priority by UNHCR. Some concerns for the Chin community will be in terms of funding their education centers and ensuring continued medical assistance from UNHCR.
On 17 June 2015, the Bar Council submitted a memorandum to Suruhanjaya Hak Asasi Manusia Malaysia (Human Rights Commission of Malaysia; SUHAKAM) with regard to the human-trafficking “death camps” at the Perlis-Thailand border. The memorandum expresses the Malaysian Bar’s deep concern for the human rights violations that have occurred with the recent discovery of the human-trafficking “death camps” in Perlis.
Current Nepalese government policy requires that every illegal migrant in Nepal be charged $5 per day of “illegal overstay” as an overcharge fine. This fine must be paid before the individual can leave Nepal. For registered refugees awaiting resettlement, this can mean hundreds of thousands of USD in fines due upon their departure, effectively leaving them trapped in Nepal despite approval of resettlement elsewhere. The Government of Nepal holds discretionary power to waive these fines for individuals of their choosing. Recently, the Government of Nepal decided to waive the visa fine laid upon a group of 100 urban refugees from Somalia, Pakistan and Myanmar, whose third country settlement process was obstructed due to indecision of the Government of Nepal, have had their fees waived this summer. This decision has opened up the door to third country resettlement for those refugees.
This decision does not represent any overhaul of the current system. The $5 a day fine per person regardless of refugee or asylum seeker status remains in place.
Civil society organisations have also noticed government authorities denying birth registration certificates to the children of refugees, leading to challenges in registering children in public schools. Urban refugees also face problems accessing health care and improving their livelihoods, due to the limited subsistence allowance provided by the UNHCR (now 25% lower than last year).
Organisation Update: PPR Nepal
Since March 2015, PPR Nepal has organised a lawyers training, a media workshop to ensure a human rights perspective when reporting on refugee issues, a dialogue with the Nepalese Immigration Department, a workshop for political parties & human rights defenders, a meeting with judges from Supreme/Appellate/District Courts and several meetings with refugee communities and CSOs in collaboration with RefWaN, RefLAN and other CSOs.
The immigration interaction program/ workshop was intended to connect various stakeholders in Nepal including immigration officials, officials from Home Ministry and District Administration Office, police and CSOs. Notably, the Director General of the Department of Immigration Nepal, Mr. Kedar Neupane, acknowledged the need for reform in the exit procedures and an alternative to overstay fines for refugees. Key findings from the workshop included improving a current lack of knowledge of refugee issues among the majority of stakeholders, media mobilisation to improve popular opinion of refugee issues in Nepal and an increase in information accessibility and interaction between all levels of stakeholders in Nepal.
PPR Nepal also hosted an interaction program/ workshop for political parties and human rights defenders on 7th August 2015 to discuss legal and political avenues to increase refugee rights and protection in Nepal. Key conclusions included creating separate laws for refugees and asylum seekers, establishing a competitive screening system to separate refugees from irregular migrants and issuing identity documents to identified refugees such as the Tibetan refugees in Nepal.
Additionally, PPR Nepal has been monitoring the immigration detention centre on a regular basis. From March to September 2015, PPR Nepal monitored around 50 non-nationals kept in a detention centre near the Department of Immigration Office in Kathmandu who were later deported to their country of origin after being charged with violating the immigration law of Nepal.
From March to September 2015, PPR Nepal provided legal aid to three asylum seekers; one from Syria and two from Pakistan. PPR Nepal raised the issue of 16 Ahmadian asylum seekers from Pakistan belonging to a single family who have been denied the status of refugee by the UNHCR. Now, UNHCR has reopened their case file with results pending.
The governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan have discussed with UNHCR the extension of Proof of Registration (PoR) cards and agreed to extend legal stay by two years for Afghan refugees. Unfortunately, the Cabinet has not yet approved this announcement and the situation of registered Afghanis remains uncertain. In any case, the PoR cards have not been extended, leading to a very difficult situation for Afghan refugees in Pakistan.
The registration of one million undocumented and unregistered Afghan refugees was also proposed and accepted by the Pakistani Government. Unfortunately, due to poor coordination among government departments, the process of registration, which was supposed to start on the 15th of July of this year, has yet to begin.
The international community seems to have also lost interest in the issue; financial assistance was further reduced by 7% this year, negatively affecting refugee communities.Access to education continues to depend on fees families can afford to pay. Afghan refugees in villages and urban refugees must pay for primary level education. There is only one urban school (sponsored by Union Aid) that is free of cost. Secondary education isn’t available in refugee villages, only through regular fee-charging private schools. As for higher education, some seats in public institutions are available for self-funded Afghan refugees, and some students are eligible for scholarships based on specific guidelines. The majority however are ineligible due to limited seats, quota limits, and an arduous acceptance process.
The health program for Afghan refugees continues with the support of UNHCR and other donors, although funding constraints have led to funding cuts and refugees receiving mobile health services, rather than access to full-fledged treatment centers. The need for access to psycho-social treatment remains high and unmet.
Refugees from Afghanistan continue to face arrest, detention, restrictions on movement, and other protection issues. During the first half of the year, over 50,000 refugees have been repatriated to Afghanistan with UNHCR assistance.
The Refugee Rights Network Pakistan is a national forum committed to advocating for refugees rights in Pakistan. In order to further advocacy efforts to strengthen the rule of law and facilitate access to justice in Pakistan, RRN Pakistan initiated a series of round table discussions. On October 13, 2015, RRN Pakistan organised a round table discussion on the Rule of Law and Access to Justice in Islamabad. Key issues discussed included a lack of capacity of duty bearers, inefficient implementation mechanisms and sufficient resources, challenging gender issues and a lack of rights based awareness. Recommendations offered to remedy these issues included launching a comprehensive capacity building initiative in human rights training for law enforcement and administrative departments, establishing a follow-up mechanism to expedite grievance redress, improving gender imbalance in courts, and establishing a human rights cell in each public office.
In Sri Lanka, refugee protection remains ambiguous, due to a lack of legal protection mechanisms. UNHCR has created the first ever refugee drop-in centre in Sri Lanka, which will serve as a information center for refugees and offer refugee support organisations access to clients.
Organization Update: SANRIM (South Asian Network for Refugees, IDPs, and Migrants)
Within the last three months, SANRIM held three legal aid workshops, together with PECA, a refugee rights organisation based in the Netherlands, for Pakistani asylum seekers and refugees. The SANRIM Chairperson participated in an 11-day fact finding and lobbying mission in Australia with the Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) and APRRN. SANRIM also participated in a service provision mapping scheme hosted by UNHCR and refugee advocates. Additionally, with financial support from SANRIM, two teachers will receive English language training through UNHCR programming to support refugees and asylum seekers.
SANRIM has supported 25+ individuals in their appeal against their first UNHCR status rejections; this support includes interviewing, documentation, counseling and presence in the RSD interview chambers during the appeals process interviews. Lawyers were allowed into the interviews due to their reputation and high qualifications; this improved SANRIM’s ability to assist in the appeals process immensely. SANRIM has also filed a citizenship case for a rejected asylum seeker married to a Sri Lankan woman whose citizenship application was rejected in the Court of Appeals. Finally, SANRIM continues to work closely on behalf of three UNHCR mandate refugees abducted by the Sri Lankan police in Kuala Lumpur. There is currently a case pending in the Sri Lankan Supreme Court filed by SANRIM on their behalf.
Taiwan still lacks formal procedures for processing asylum seekers or stateless people. Last year, the Taiwanese National Immigration Agency (NIA) repatriated three Kurdish people who entered on fake passports and wanted to transfer to Europe. They were strictly treated as “illegal” immigrants, not as refugees or asylum seekers. This year the NIA also repatriated a few asylum seekers from PRC China, because the asylum seekers were not famous dissidents.
The draft Refugee Act, proposed by the NIA and NGOs, is still in parliament waiting for review. No date for Taiwan’s national election in 2016 has been set; as such, many MPs are focusing on the upcoming election while the bill sits in parliament awaiting review. Additionally, since Taiwan will have its 2nd International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and its International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) review, government officials are busy writing the state reports for those reviews. Positively however, government officials have said that they will add the ‘principle of non-refoulement’ to the Extradition Act.
In regard to the Nationality Act, no revisions have been made regarding foreigners who give up their nationality to apply for Taiwanese nationality. Thus, some applicants become stateless when they don’t receive Taiwanese citizenship and cannot recover their original nationality.
Organization Update: The Taiwan Association for Human Rights (TAHR)
The Taiwan Association for Human Rights works to assist asylum seekers and stateless Tibetans with special case review procedures. However, the NIA insists nothing can be done without official authorization.
Currently, TAHR is working to assist 15 stateless Tibetans to obtain their residence visa in Taiwan, since Article 16 of the Immigration Act only accepts Tibetans who entered Taiwan before the end of 2008.
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