Myanmar + 2 more

Myanmar: Hope for vulnerable refugees in Malaysia & Thailand

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Between February 9 and 20, 2005, a delegation from Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) and Migration and Refugee Services of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (MRS/USCCB) visited Malaysia and Thailand. The trip aimed to look at the situation of the refugees in each country, most of whom are Burmese, with a particular focus on the unaccompanied refugee minors (URMs) among them. This mission followed two earlier delegations' visits to the region during which the plight of the URMs was observed, concerns were raised, and recommendations were made for a more focused review.

The delegation set out on this mission with the following objectives:

- To advocate for durable solutions for URMs, including resettlement when it is in the child's best interest

- To gather information and make recommendations to help the U.S. Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM) meet its 2005 goal of developing 'targeted strategies to improve the protection of unaccompanied minors'

- To persuade key U.S. and UNHCR officials that resettlement is the best durable solution for some URMs

- To investigate the protracted situation of other refugees in the region and make appropriate recommendations

The situation for the refugees in each country is very different. In Malaysia, there are no refugee camps, no legal status for the refugees and no comprehensive system for delivering refugee assistance. The refugees in Malaysia live as best they can as illegal migrants, often in quite insecure and desperate circumstances. In Thailand, there are long-standing, well-established refugee camps along the Burmese border. In these camps the refugees have protection, food, shelter, health care and access to education. However, significant economic activity is prohibited, and the refugees have no legal right to integrate into Thailand or otherwise build a future there.

Perhaps the delegation's mission is best captured in a comment by an elderly refugee in the Tham Hin camp in Thailand. He noted that a number of international delegations had visited his camp over the seven years that he and his family had been there, but that there had been no changes in the living conditions of the refugees in this camp. And then he said, 'Rather than quenching our thirst with a glass of water, please provide us the shade of a tree, for it is longer lasting.'

The delegation came away from this encounter and from the interaction with other refugees visited deeply committed to aggressively promoting durable solutions for the refugees who have lost so much and who have languished for so long in very difficult conditions.

In the report that follows the delegation briefly describes its relevant observations, and proposes recommendations for addressing the needs observed.