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2014 UNHCR regional operations profile - South-East Asia

| Overview |

Working environment

Most countries in South-East Asia do not have any legislation regulating the rights of asylum-seekers and refugees, and UNHCR conducts refugee status determination in the absence of a national asylum system. Three countries in South-East Asia have national asylum systems at varying levels of development. One country has limited processing for certain groups under an "admissions board" process. A number of States without national asylum systems generally consider refugees and asylum-seekers to be illegal migrants, who as such are susceptible to detention, expulsion, refoulement and other serious protection risks. Regarding statelessness, only one State in the subregion has signed the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons. UNHCR advocates for States in the region to ensure an adequate protection space for refugees and stateless people, as well as for the establishment of effective legal and normative frameworks governing international protection.

In the South-East Asian context, where mixed-migration movements prevail, a number of States implement detention, border-control, and restrictive maritime and other policies to manage irregular migration and ensure national security, which at times are detrimental to international protection. Furthermore, people-smuggling and human-trafficking networks in the sub-region have flourished, along with an increase in irregular maritime movements and a loss of life at sea. The Regional Cooperation Framework being implemented by the Bali Process through the Regional Support Office, and other regional initiatives, are expected to strengthen cooperation in safeguarding refugee protection while countering irregular movements.

The inter-communal conflict that broke out in mid- and late 2012 in Myanmar's Rakhine State, which resulted in large-scale internal displacement and the need for emergency humanitarian response inside the country, has also driven a growing number of refugees from Rakhine State to depart to or transit through various countries in the region, including by sea in unseaworthy and overcrowded boats.

| Response |


  • UNHCR's protection strategies in South-East Asia will focus on the establishment of protection-sensitive responses to mixed migration, registration, documentation, access to asylum, refugee status determination (RSD) and the promotion of alternatives to detention. UNHCR will also aim to protect and assist the most vulnerable urban refugees and prevent refoulement. Where the necessary conditions are in place, comprehensive solutions and approaches will be pursued, including local integration, voluntary repatriation, resettlement, labour options and temporary stay arrangements.

  • The Office will continue to advocate for the rights of people of concern and for States' adherence to international protection standards. It will do so in cooperation with concerned governments, and with the support of regional processes and institutions and civil-society actors.

  • UNHCR will also continue to work with States to promote and implement comprehensive protection-sensitive responses to irregular movements of people and mixed migration, including under the Regional Cooperation Framework endorsed by the Bali Process, as well as through other regional initiatives.

  • Closer cooperation with regional institutions, as well as NGO and civil society groupings, will aim to promote government ownership of refugee protection, particularly with regard to access to protection, basic services and registration.

  • UNHCR will continue to collaborate with ASEAN human rights mechanisms and other ASEAN entities on statelessness and refugee protection.


In South-East Asia's complex mixed-migration context, States' interests relating to both national security and the maintenance of good relations with neighbours pose challenges to international protection and access to asylum. Available protection space in the region is fragile, unpredictable and inconsistent due in part to the lack of national legal frameworks for refugees, asylum-seekers, and stateless people in the region. The continued use in some countries of immigration detention facilities to hold asylum-seekers, refugees and stateless people, including children and others vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, is of concern. In addition, many urban refugees and asylum-seekers are unable to earn a living or gain access to social services.

| Implementation |


Operations in Malaysia, Myanmar and Thailand are described in separate country chapters.

In Bangladesh, UNHCR provides protection and assistance to refugees residing in refugee camps to help address their humanitarian needs and ensure minimum standards of living are met, which helps to deter irregular onward movement. For unregistered refugees residing outside the camps, UNHCR advocates for them to be registered and provided with protection as needed. UNHCR also advocates for more self-reliance opportunities for urban refugees and seeks durable solutions for them. Advocacy for the prevention of statelessness will continue.

In Cambodia, UNHCR supports the Government's Refugee Office both financially and by offering technical advice. The support focuses on assisting the Refugee Office as it continues to build its capacity to decide on asylum procedures, provide legal and social support to the refugees and asylum-seekers in the country, and to enhance prospects for the local integration of refugees.

In light of the increase in the number of asylum-seekers arriving in Indonesia, UNHCR is building its registration and refugee status determination (RSD) capacity in the country, as well as strengthening its ability to process recognized refugees for resettlement. The work to enhance resettlement processing capacity that began in 2012 will proceed. UNHCR will continue to collaborate with civil society to advocate for alternatives to detention for asylum-seekers. Particular attention will be paid to ensuring that refugees with specific needs will be assisted. UNHCR will continue to advocate for Indonesia to enhance its regional responsibility for refugee protection in the context of regional initiatives, such as the Bali Process and the Regional Cooperation Framework.

As one of the countries in the region that have acceded to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, the Philippines is developing its capacity to manage its asylum system. In 2012, a combined refugee status and stateless determination procedure was adopted. UNHCR supports the Government in this endeavour, in addition to assisting its efforts to address statelessness.

The Philippines provides a transit centre for those refugees who are in need of temporary relocation outside of the country of asylum pending departure for resettlement. In the framework of the coordinated UN response to requests by the Government to address internal displacement in Mindanao, UNHCR co-leads the protection cluster for those displaced by internal conflict, with the Government's Department of Social Welfare and Development. Activities focus on protection monitoring, civil and birth certification and the protection of people with special needs.

In Viet Nam, UNHCR will continue to collaborate with and support the Government bodies working to reduce statelessness. The Office will advocate for the naturalization of stateless people or the re-granting of lost nationality. UNHCR will also promote the Government's accession to the 1954 Statelessness Convention. Advocacy for the prevention of statelessness will be conducted through ASEAN entities.

UNHCR does not have an operational presence in the Lao People's Democratic Republic or Timor-Leste. In Singapore the Office's presence is limited with one staff member responsible for private-sector fundraising. The situation of refugees and asylum-seekers in these three countries is monitored and they are assisted where necessary by UNHCR's Regional Office in Bangkok. UNHCR will continue to assist the Timor-Leste Government's Asylum Office in building its capacity to decide asylum applications and to assist refugees. UNHCR will also continue to contribute to the drafting of Timor-Leste's revised immigration and asylum law.

| Financial information |

Over the last several years, UNHCR's financial requirements in the South-East Asia subregion have increased sharply from USD 69.4 million in 2010 to a revised 2013 budget of USD 151 million. This increase was mainly due to the outbreak of communal violence and the resulting displacement in Myanmar's Rakhine State in mid-2012, the internal displacement situation in Kachin State, and ensuring preparedness for the possible return to Myanmar of refugees in Thailand if conditions become conducive. In 2014, the financial requirements for the region are set at USD 153 million; however, these requirements may change should any voluntary returns to Myanmar of refugees in Thailand take place.

UNHCR budgets for South-East Asia (USD)
Operation 2013
Revised budget
(as of 30 June 2013)
2014 2015
Total 151,012,866 83,659,745 16,791,991 52,553,888 153,005,624 158,754,655
Bangladesh 12,609,556 11,410,451 12,510 0 11,422,961 11,356,138
Indonesia 8,007,336 7,950,312 155,005 0 8,105,317 8,238,418
Malaysia 17,477,520 18,875,102 1,231,502 0 20,106,604 21,695,610
Myanmar 68,481,570 6,051,000 12,940,291 49,073,119 68,064,410 67,772,726
Philippines 8,427,638 697,717 727,572 3,480,770 4,906,059 4,641,297
Thailand 28,044,521 32,090,244 710,059 0 32,800,303 37,233,459
Thailand Regional Office 7,564,224 6,584,919 577,849 0 7,162,768 7,817,007
Viet Nam 400,500 0 437,203 0 437,203 0

Source: UNHCR Global Appeal 2014-2105



Statistical Snapshot*
* As at January 2014
  1. Country or territory of asylum or residence. In the absence of Government estimates, UNHCR has estimated the refugee population in most industrialized countries based on 10 years of asylum-seekers recognition.
  2. Persons recognized as refugees under the 1951 UN Convention/1967 Protocol, the 1969 OAU Convention, in accordance with the UNHCR Statute, persons granted a complementary form of protection and those granted temporary protection. It also includes persons in a refugee-like situation whose status has not yet been verified.
  3. Persons whose application for asylum or refugee status is pending at any stage in the procedure.
  4. Refugees who have returned to their place of origin during the first six months of 2013. Source: Country of origin and asylum.
  5. Persons who are displaced within their country and to whom UNHCR extends protection and/or assistance. It also includes persons who are in an IDP-like situation.
  6. IDPs protected/assisted by UNHCR who have returned to their place of origin during the first six months of 2013.
  7. Refers to persons under UNHCR's statelessness mandate.
  8. Persons of concern to UNHCR not included in the previous columns but to whom UNHCR extends protection and/or assistance.
  9. The category of people in a refugee-like situation is descriptive in nature and includes groups of people who are outside their country of origin and who face protection risks similar to those of refugees, but for whom refugee status has, for practical or other reasons, not been ascertained.
The data are generally provided by Governments, based on their own definitions and methods of data collection.
A dash (-) indicates that the value is zero, not available or not applicable.

Source: UNHCR/Governments.
Compiled by: UNHCR, FICSS.
Residing in Bangladesh [1]
Refugees [2]
More info 231,145
The total figure includes 200,000 persons originating from Myanmar in a refugee-like situation. The Government of Bangladesh estimates the population to be between 300,000 and 500,000.
Asylum Seekers [3] 9
Returned Refugees [4] 0
Internally Displaced Persons (IDPS) [5] 0
Returned IDPs [6] 0
Stateless Persons [7] 0
Various [8] 0
Total Population of Concern 231,154
Originating from Bangladesh [1]
Refugees [2] 9,839
Asylum Seekers [3] 22,128
Returned Refugees [4] 0
Internally Displaced Persons (IDPS) [5] 0
Returned IDPs [6] 0
Various [8] 5
Total Population of Concern 31,972
Private Sector Contributions to UNHCR
Contributions since 2006
2014 0
2013 0
2012 492
2011 2,164
2010 0
2009 0
2008 0
2007 0
2006 0

Bangladesh UNHCR Fundraising Reports Rss FeedUNHCR Fundraising Reports

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2012 UNHCR partners in Bangladesh
Implementing partners
Government agencies:; Ministry of Food and Disaster Management; National Human Rights Commission
NGOs: Bangladesh Red Crescent Society; BRAC; Empowerment by Law of the Common People; Research Initiatives Bangladesh; Research Training and Management International; Technical Assistance Inc.
Operational partners
NGOs: Action Contre La Faim; Concern Worldwide; Handicap International; International Federation of Red Cross; Médecins Sans Frontières - Bangladesh; Médecins Sans Frontières - Holland; Muslim Aid; Solidarites International

Returnees in Myanmar

During the early 1990s, more than 250,000 Rohingya Muslims fled across the border into Bangladesh, citing human rights abuses by Myanmar's military government. In exile, refugees received shelter and assistance in 20 camps in the Cox's Bazaar region of Bangladesh. More than 230,000 of the Rohingya Muslims have returned since 1992, but about 22,000 still live in camps in Bangladesh. To promote stability in returnee communities in Myanmar and to help this group of re-integrate into their country, UNHCR and its partner agencies provide monitors to insure the protection and safety of the returnees as well as vocational training, income generation schemes, adult literacy programs and primary education.

Returnees in Myanmar

Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh

In 1991, some 250,000 refugees from Myanmar's Northern Rakhine state fled by boat and on foot to neighbouring Bangladesh, where they were sheltered in 20 camps in the Cox's Bazar district. While the majority of these refugees eventually returned home, some 20,500 people – mostly Rohingya, a Muslim minority ethnic group – remain in two of the original camps.

Conditions in these camps are below standard, with many refugees living in overcrowded shelters in desperate need of repair. Frequent heavy rains inundate the area, further damaging shelters and spreading disease. Harassment and discrimination add to the plight of the Rohingya refugees, the majority of whom say that they do not want to return home until there is peace and democracy in Myanmar.

The UNHCR has expanded its routine protection monitoring in Cox's Bazar to address the problems of sexual and gender-based violence as well as trafficking of women and children. The UN refugee agency continues to work with governments, other UN agencies and non-governmental organisations to try and find a durable solution for the Rohingya refugees.

Posted on 27 November 2006

Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh

Statelessness in Bangladesh: The Biharis

Some 240,000 Urdu-speaking Biharis spent decades living in appalling conditions in squalid settlements in Bangladesh. They were not recognized as citizens and had little hope of a normal life.

The plight of the Biharis, whose ancestors moved to Bangladesh from India following the 1947 partition of the subcontinent, stems from the separation of Bangladesh from Pakistan in 1971. While many Bihari Urdu speakers subsequently relocated to Pakistan, up to 300,000 remained in Bangladesh. For many years, their legal rights as citizens were not recognized. Many lived in camps and open settlements and were, as a consequence, often denied access to education and had difficulty finding work.

In 2008, the High Court in Dhaka ruled that the Urdu speakers were nationals of Bangladesh. The government registered the adults as voters in time for the December 2008 general election and issued them with national ID cards.Today they remain a linguistic minority in need of better housing and employment opportunities.

There are an estimated 12 million stateless people in the world. Many are effectively trapped in legal limbo, often with limited enjoyment of human rights.

Statelessness in Bangladesh: The Biharis

Living Silence: Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh

"Living Silence" is a photographic exhibition of one of the world's most enduring refugee crises, by award-winning photographer Saiful Huq Omi.

Bangladesh has hosted refugees for over three decades. Today, 28,000 refugees from Myanmar known as the Rohingya - an ethnic, religious and linguistic minority people - are living in the two official refugee camps in the south-east of Bangladesh. Over half of them are children, many of whom have only ever experienced life in the camps. It is estimated that there are a further 200,000 Rohingya living outside the camps, unable to return to Myanmar where they fear persecution and exploitation.

Like refugees around the world, the Rohingya refugees are survivors. They are living in transience, waiting for the day they can go home in safety and in dignity. Until then, like any other people, they aspire to live a life free from violence and exploitation.

Together with other UN agencies and NGOs, UNHCR provides shelter, water, primary education and health care to refugees from Myanmar in the Nayapara and Kutupalong camps. UNHCR is also working with governments around the world to resettle some of the most vulnerable.

Living Silence: Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh

Bangladesh: Rohingya Refugees Play video

Bangladesh: Rohingya Refugees

Living in limbo for years has pushed some Rohingyas to risk everything in search of a better life.
Bangladesh: A Life On HoldPlay video

Bangladesh: A Life On Hold

The story of Noor Jahan, a refugee from Myanmar. Noor Jahan fled from Myanmar in 1992 and found shelter in Bangladesh. Camp life has always been hard, but recent improvements have made her family's life a little easier.