[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index ][Thread Index ]

UNHCR policy affects Burmese asylum

Subject: UNHCR policy affects Burmese asylum seekers

Content-Type: text/plain; charset="us-ascii"

Although the following objective report may be rather dry reading, it
describes a deplorable "Catch 22" situation with dire consequences for
thousands of Burmese asylum seekers in Thailand.  These people ought not be
forgotten by the Burmese democracy movement but the question is, what can be

Content-Type: text/plain; charset="us-ascii"

January 1996

UNHCR policies affecting asylum seekers in Bangkok

In the refugee camps along the Thai-Burma border, refugees
have access to basic humanitarian support from various
NGOs. They also have the benefit of being recognized as
prima facie refugees by UNHCR. (This means they are
considered refugees unless otherwise proven.) UNHCR does
not have a protection role over the refugees in the border, but
as long as the refugees remain inside the refugee camps, they
can avail of the support from NGOs, and the tolerance of the
Thai government about their presence. The moment they leave
the border refugee camps, their status reverts to "illegal
entrants". Ironically, with the UNHCR office in Bangkok, the
refugees need to risk going to Bangkok first as "illegal
entrants" before being able to apply for the formal UNHCR

In June 1995, the UNHCR office in Bangkok came out with a
policy that all "persons of concern" in Bangkok will be cut -
off from financial, medical and educational support. Instead,
all forms of support would only be available in the safe area
The safe area was established in 1992 by Thailand's Ministry
of Interior, originally only for Burmese students. Every month
after the policy came into effect. UNHCR cut - off 50 - 100
cases from their list and asked these cases to avail of UNHCR
assistance and protection in the safe area.  By the end of
January 1996, all (approx. 2500) regular cases had already
stopped receiving support in Bangkok. Furthermore, all new
arrivals who were recognized by UNHCR were not to receive
any support in Bangkok and would immediately be sent to the
safe area. This meant that all new asylum seekers did not have
the option of staying in Bangkok anymore. All those who
remained in Bangkok risked arrest and detention even with the
"person of concern" status. Today, officially, the only Burmese
that UNHCR supports in Bangkok are those waiting for the
results of the status determination process, emergencies,
scholars and special cases.

FISRAPT, the Foundation functioning as UNHCR's social
service arm gradually ceased programs for the Burmese.

This policy brought an influx of new residents to the safe area.
As a result, serious overcrowding occurred. UNHCR had to
rush the building of temporary housing and permanent long
houses. From a low of 12 residents when it first opened, and an
average of 150 residents in the succeeding years. the safe area's
population rose to over 500 few months after the policy was
effected. By the end of December 1995, there were reportedly
over 600 residents. Also. the support of the agencies present in
the safe area was stretched. There was a shortage of supplies as
agencies struggled to meet the demands of an increased
population.  Distribution of hygiene kits was stopped. Mental
health conditions deteriorated. Many succumbed to depression,
insecurity and violent behavior. Residents also felt that there
was insufficient medical facilities and full - time medical
personnel to take care of their medical needs.

With the increase in applications to enter the safe area, what
resulted was a long writing period for the Burmese to be able
to enter the safe area. Supposedly, the reason for the delay was
that the court in Ratchaburi, where the safe area is located,
could only handle 20 cases a week.  The Burmese needed to go
through court procedures to clear them of the illegal entry
charges and to "legalize" their stay in Thailand. The waiting
period for entry to the safe area was anywhere from 2 weeks to
8 weeks While waiting for entry, they are not eligible for any
assistance from UNHCR. The persons of concern struggled to
find means of surviving while waiting in Bangkok.