The UNHRC states that, there are more than 88000 registered refugees and almost 8000 asylum seekers in Thailand today, the UNHCR was invited to work in Thailand as of 1975, by the Thai government. This was when the Indochinese refugee crisis became known, when hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing from Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam to Thailand. Thailand has hosted an estimated 1.3 million refugees over the years.In Thailand majority of refugees are ethnic minorities from Myanmar,and they live along the Thai-Myanmar border in the nine camps of four provinces.
The United Nations High Commission of Refugees(UNHCR) focuses on protection activities and programs that ensure the refugees lives for safety and relative security within the camps, in coordination with non-governmental organizations (NGO’s),private sector,civil societies, UN agencies and partners and all camps are run by the Thai government. This means the Thai government monitors and overlooks at all the activities occurring within the camps and whether they are within Thai government policies and laws.
The UNHRC’s mandate is to protect refugees, help them from being refugees, to repair the broken link between them and the State of their nationality or to substitute one for them. The mandate has been been extended to helping many internally displaced by conflict and stateless people, this is relevant to the Rohingya crisis.
The UNHCR’s Bangkok Regional Office states that their primary purpose as safeguarding of:
- Rights and well-being of people who have been forced to flee.
- Right to seek asylum (temporary residence, mass influx)
- Safe refugee in another country (documentation, legal status, basic services, self reliance)
- Lasting solutions (voluntary repatriation, local integration, resettlement.
Main person’s of concern
Refugees– individuals/groups outside their country due to conflict or with a well-founded fear of persecution.
Asylum Seekers– individuals whose request for asylum(refugee status ) has yet to be processed
IDP’s – internally displaced persons, having not crossed a national border to find safety (not covered by UNHCR’s original mandate)
Returnees- refugees who have returned home (voluntary repatriation, reintegration, sustainable solutions)
Stateless persons – individuals not considered nationals by any state (denied a nationality, deprived of access to basic rights such as education, healthcare, employment, documentation, freedom of movement.
Key Issues in South East Asia ( Bangkok Regional Office)
A Lack of legal frameworks (national and regional) respecting refugees and asylum seekers and corresponding challenges (considered as illegal migrants under immigration laws/invisible to national and international communities/limited value of refugee status)
- Limited options for durable solutions (only resettlement/voluntary repatriation and local integration not possible)
- Longer stays and less space/resources for traditional solutions (more refugees but decreased quotas for resettlement, RSD not possible for everyone)
- Conflation of refugee movements/presence and security issues (arrest, detention)
- No access to opportunities and services (work rights, basic services such as education, healthcare)
- Protracted Rohingya displacement (conditions not conducive for repatriation, root causes not addressed).
With countries like the United States, Canada and Australia that have committed to accept large numbers of refugees from Thailand and resettlement countries such as Finland, Great Britain, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and Sweden.
With such great responsibility the UNHRC’s Regional Office in Bangkok covers 13 countries namely Myanmar, Cambodia,Vietnam, Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, Lao PDR AND Singapore. With three more countries Timor-Lester, Mongolia and Bangladesh and only three of the countries it covers are signatories to the 1951 Geneva Convention relating to the Refugee Law.
The UNHRC’s Regional Office in Bangkok operates with only 33 national staff members and 14 international staff members with the focus on the Refugee Status Determination process. The major challenges in terms of performing their duties resulting in the processes taking longer are political will, security concerns, access, competition, lacking presence and resources, lacking national framework, priority and human resources.