The number of new refugee displacements in Southeast Asia has significantly dropped within the last year and a half, yet a report released Tuesday by the United Nations Refugee Agency said refugees are facing an increase in violence and persecution especially when having to leave the country they initially sought asylum in.
The study, which was conducted between January 2018 to June 2019, found that some refugees are having to seek asylum in more than one country because of “negative push factors” such as lack of employment opportunities, inadequate educational opportunities, the fear of deportation, and facing hostility from their original host country.
One example of hostility from a host country is in Bangladesh, where over 700,000 Rohingya – a group of minority Muslims from Myanmar – fled to when Burmese security forces began a campaign of violence and persecution against them. Bangladeshis have created campaigns supporting the long-term holding of Rohingya in temporary camps until they can be sent back to Myanmar. They have also accused Rohingya of being involved in crime, taking their jobs, and decreasing wages.
Additionally, most of the refugees who are migrating throughout Southeast Asia cross borders irregularly, this means they often have to use smugglers, said François Kernin, the head of the Regional Mixed Movement Monitoring Unit at UNHCR’s Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific. This makes refugees at a much higher risk of abuse and exploitation from smugglers than if they were able to stay in the original country they sought asylum, he said.
“In the absence of safe legal pathways for refugees and asylum-seekers, the routes and means of transport are clandestine, which often means they are unregulated and dangerous. If a journey involves multiple border crossings, the risk increases exponentially,” he said to The Globe Post.
Rohingya compose the majority of people moving within Southeast Asia. They often cross the border into neighboring countries, Thailand and Bangladesh, because they are the easiest to get to, said Kernin. But because of negative push factors such as exposure to violence, exploitation, human rights violations, and the failure to meet basic needs Kernin said some refugees may feel compelled to move on to other countries.
One way to decrease these secondary movements is by allowing refugees to become self-reliant within their original country of asylum, said the report. This includes allowing refugees to safely work, own a business, and the ability to move freely within the country, said Kernin.
“After fleeing war or persecution, the opportunity to work and earn a living is one of the most critical ways people can rebuild their lives with dignity and in peace, allowing them to simultaneously contribute to hosting communities,” he said. “When refugees are integrated into national development plans, both refugees and host communities benefit.”
The UNHCR is working to encourage countries in Southeast Asia and around the world to create a framework that protects the asylum status of refugees. Kernin said the Philippines currently has a system in place that affords protection to refugees and allows them security within the country.
“Refugees in the Philippines have the right to move freely and work to earn a living for themselves. UNHCR hopes legal frameworks like this will become more common in the region,” he said.
The article was edited on October 11, 2019, to clarify UNHCR’s comments.