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* News Release Issued by the International Secretariat of Amnesty
AI INDEX: ASA 01//97
01 OCTOBER 1997
Asia: Refugees flee worsening human rights situation
The current refugee crisis on Thailand's borders with Cambodia and
is just the latest manifestation of a worsening human situation across
Asia-Pacific region, Amnesty International said today, as it accused
governments in the region and elsewhere of failing to provide proper
protection to refugees and asylum seekers.
"An arc of refugee crises has emerged across the heart of Asia --
stretching from eastern Nepal, through northeast India, the Chittagong
tracts in Bangladesh, and across into Myanmar and Thailand," Amnesty
International said. "The vast majority of these people are women and
children fleeing torture, "disappearances", political killings and
"Longstanding problems elsewhere in the region -- such as the
conflicts in Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Bougainville, and repression in
East Timor -- have also created large outflows of people seeking
"Governments in the region and elsewhere have reacted to this
by putting up barriers to make it difficult for refugees to gain asylum
by sending asylum seekers back to face danger. They should instead be
tackling the underlying causes -- human rights abuses -- as a means of
promoting people's security and regional stability. "
In a report issued today as part of its worldwide campaign on
refugees, Amnesty International highlights four countries where people
faced human rights abuses because of their ethnicity or questions over
their national identity: Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and East Timor.
countries form just one dimension of serious human rights abuses in
every country in the Asia-Pacific region, leading to at least 1.8
refugees and 1.7 million internally displaced people in the region.
In Myanmar, many ethnic minorities have been persistently targeted
the military for gross human rights violations as the government tries
assert its political control and open up rural areas for economic
development throughout the country. As a result hundreds of thousands of
Burmese people have been forced to flee abroad. Many of them have been
illegally returned home to face danger, in violation of international
Internal armed conflict in Sri Lanka centred on the Sinhala-Tamil
divide has caused hundreds of thousands of people to abandon their homes
and flee the terror. Most are now internally displaced on the island.
In Bhutan, around 90,000 people have been forced to leave the
after the government arbitrarily deprived them of their citizenship
of their ethnic identity. Most are now living in Nepal, fearing that
will never be allowed home.
East Timorese people continue to suffer as a result of the
government's 20-year campaign of repression and intimidation to stamp
independent identity. Many of those who have tried to escape have been
denied asylum on the grounds that they have theoretical claims to
Conflicts and repression connected with ethnic, national and
divisions are behind the flight and plight of many other refugees.
of systematic repression by the Chinese authorities of Tibetan
religious and cultural identity has generated a refugee diaspora from
to Europe. Around one fifth of the population has fled Afghanistan as a
result of the fighting, while some 300,000 Kashmiri Hindus and 50,000
Kashmiri Muslims have fled the Kashmir valley.
The vast majority of refugees have sought safety in other Asian
countries. Those that have sought refuge further afield are increasingly
being denied asylum. However, Asian countries are also sending back
refugees forcibly or reducing their food supplies to such an extent that
the refugees are forced to leave their camps.
In its report, Amnesty International calls on regional governments
immediately ratify the United Nations (UN) Convention relating to the
status of Refugees and to respect the fundamental principle of
non-refoulement so that no refugee is sent back to their country to face
danger. The organization also called on governments to allow the UNHCR
other aid and medical organizations access to refugee camps around the
Most of the Asian states have not signed the UN Convention relating
the status of Refugees which protects refugees. Elsewhere, regional
such as the Organization of American States, the Arab League and the
Organization of African Unity have drawn up instruments designed to
refugees in their regions. However, in the Asia region there does not
to be any movement towards a similar agreement.
"Refugees seeking asylum in the richer Asian countries face
that can be bewilderingly complex and unsatisfactory, where they have
access to independent advice or representation, and no real prospect of
exercising their right to appeal," Amnesty International said.
In Australia, all asylum seekers face automatic detention while
claim is assessed -- in clear violation of international standards. In
April 1997, the UN-based Human Rights Committee stated that Australia's
practice of detention was arbitrary and violative of human rights.
Asylum seekers in Japan are sometimes denied access to asylum
procedures altogether. Those who are allowed to submit claims are put
through a secretive, arbitrary and often obstructive process. Others
been threatened with refoulement to face further danger. Despite the
continuing crackdown on dissidents in China, Japan has so far only
recognized one Chinese person as a refugee in more than 15 years.
Elsewhere in the world, governments, particularly in Western
are also making it more difficult for refugees to seek asylum. "In
promulgating restrictive legislation such as visa requirements, these
governments conveniently ignore the fact that refugees fleeing for their
lives are not in a position to spend several days queuing at the embassy
for a visa or filling out the myriad of forms required to leave their
country legally," Amnesty International said.
For a copy of the report, Ethnicity and nationality: Refugees in Asia,
to arrange an interview, please call:
Press Office, International Secretariat: Tel: (+44) 171 413