The Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) provides humanitarian assistance and protection to vulnerable populations in Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Bangladesh, Malaysia, and India. In addition, the Bureau also monitors refugee, internally displaced persons (IDPs), vulnerable migrants and statelessness issues throughout Southeast Asia on an ongoing basis.
Burmese: The 1982 Myanmar Citizenship Law resulted in the statelessness of approximately 750,000 Rohingya in Burma. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) works with the Burmese government to provide identification documents to the Rohingya and improve their legal status and access to services. UNHCR seeks to improve community participation and self-management, especially of Muslim women and girls, in decisions on education and reproductive health services. The U.S. government advocates on status and documentation issues. Additionally, policy is aimed at ensuring that the Rohingya benefit from improvements in services for healthcare, education, water and sanitation, agriculture and infrastructure.
Roughly 150,000 Burmese refugees live in nine official camps on the Thai-Burma border, of which an estimated 50,000 are unregistered. U.S. government funding provides life-saving assistance to refugees in these camps and to those fleeing ongoing conflict in Burma. UNHCR focuses on providing protection, while NGOs implement assistance activities. Approximately 3 million additional Burmese migrants in Thailand live in urban areas.
Approximately 29,000 Rohingya reside in two official camps in Bangladesh, where UNHCR and NGOs work in the areas of health, skills training, education, and community mobilization. Since mid-1992, an estimated 200,000–500,000 unregistered Rohingya reside outside refugee camps in the Cox’s Bazar District of Southeastern Bangladesh. UNHCR requests the government of Bangladesh to fully register this population and improve their living conditions as well as those of the host Bangladeshi populations. The U.S. government urges the development of a comprehensive refugee policy and advocates for protection on behalf of vulnerable Rohingya.
In the recent past, civil defense groups trained by the Royal Thai Government intercepted, detained and pushed several sea-bound groups of Rohingya back out to sea without sufficient food and water. International attention allowed the issue to be raised in multilateral fora as the sea-bound Rohingya sought refuge in other countries, including Indonesia, India and Malaysia. The Bureau supports and encourages the development of humane and comprehensive solutions for sea-bound Rohingya.
Malaysia hosts an estimated three million migrants, one million of whom are considered illegal. Refugees are not distinguished from undocumented migrants and remain vulnerable to arrest and subject to detention, prosecution and deportation. A poorly trained and supervised paramilitary organization conducts periodic sweeps of those considered illegal migrants, including the over 90,000 registered refugees and asylum seekers from Burma recognized by UNHCR. While refugees and asylum seekers (particularly those without identification) are still concerned about harassment and raids, the protection environment has improved over the past two years. U.S government policy focuses on expanding life-saving assistance to urban Burmese refugees and asylum seekers; expanding protection; and ensuring that refugees and asylum seekers are protected against refoulement, arbitrary detention and other forms of violence and abuse, including access to registration and refugee status determination procedure.
An estimated 50,000–100,000 unregistered Burmese in India reside primarily in Mizoram State. In New Delhi, 11,000 are under UNHCR’s care, 5,000 of which are recognized refugees. Despite UNHCR subsistence allowances, they reportedly have difficulty integrating due to discrimination, the language barrier and a lack of livelihood skills appropriate for an urban area. The U.S. government continues to monitor the protection situation and assess the humanitarian assistance needs of vulnerable Burmese in India.
Lao Hmong: Following “The Secret War” of the 1970s, some ethnic Hmong have hidden from the Lao Government in the jungles for thirty years. Thousands have also sought refuge in Thailand. Despite strong protests, Thai authorities forcibly returned approximately 4,500 Lao Hmong to Laos in December 2009. UNHCR, the U.S. government and the international community diplomatically engaged with the Laotian government and conducted assessment visits to the village where they now reside. The U.S. government finalized an assistance package with the government of Laos in July 2011 to support health and medical needs, agricultural production, school construction and computer equipment for Lao Hmong returnees.
Montagnards: A 2005 Memorandum of Understanding provides for the Cambodian government’s repatriation of Montagnards to Vietnam, with the final two individuals voluntarily returned in July 2011. Over the past five years, U.S. officials and UNHCR staff have had unprecedented access to monitor the treatment of returned asylum seekers in the Central Highlands.
Cambodian Refugees: The government of Vietnam has made significant progress on naturalizing former Cambodian refugees, who fled the Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s. The U.S. government continues to closely monitor the reduction and prevention of statelessness among former Cambodian refugees.
Urdu-Speaking Biharis: The government of Bangladesh has successfully included the 250,000 Urdu-speaking Bangladeshis in its national voter registration campaign and effectively resolved their statelessness by issuing national identity cards. UNHCR considers Urdu speakers to be a vulnerable minority population needing greater integration efforts. The U.S. government closely monitors their living conditions and access to services.
Vietnamese Khmer Krom: The indigenous ethnic minority Khmer Krom lives in the southern areas of Vietnam, and approximately 300 reside in Thailand. Since 2007, small numbers have sought asylum in Cambodia and Thailand, due to claimed mistreatment based on religious and land rights issues. The U.S. government monitors the situation of the Khmer Krom to ensure their protection in Thailand and prevent those in Cambodia from forced return to Vietnam.
What funding did the U.S. government provide through the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration to projects in the region in fiscal year 2011 (October 1, 2010 – September 30, 2011)?
The Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration programmed almost $46 million in East Asia, including Southeast Asia. Of this total, approximately $26 million was contributed to UNHCR and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). NGOs received just under $20million.
In which countries does the Department of State base Refugee Coordinators in the region? Which countries do they cover?
A regional Refugee Coordinator, Deputy Refugee Coordinator and Assistant Refugee Coordinator are based in Bangkok, Thailand. They monitor protection, assistance and refugee resettlement for populations of concern in Southeast Asia, East Asia and Bangladesh.
What programs are the newest? Which ones are the oldest? Which have ended recently due to the end of a refugee crisis?
The newest programs are for Hmong returnees in Laos. The oldest program is for Burmese on the Thai-Burma border. The program for Montagnards ended in 2009, despite continued monitoring of Montagnard refugee returns in Vietnam.
· The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)
· International Rescue Committee (IRC)
· American Refugee Committee (ARC)
· Thailand Burma Border Consortium (TBBC)
· Action Contre La Faim (ACF)
· Handicap International (HI)
· Solidarites International (SI)
· Premiere Urgence/Aide Medicale International (PU-AMI)
· International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC)
· Health Equities Initiative (HEI)
· Malaysian Care (MCare)
· A Call to Serve (ACTS)