UNHCR Regional update – Asia and the Pacific (14 September 2018)
Update of UNHCR’s operations in Asia and the Pacific
A. Situational context including new developments
As of the end of 2017, there were some 9.5 million persons of concern to UNHCR in the Asia and Pacific region, including 4.2 refugees, 2.7 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) and 2.2 million stateless persons. While only 20 of the 45 countries and territories in the region have acceded to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol, the long-standing tradition of hospitality towards refugees remains strong, as demonstrated by Bangladesh over the last 13 months in welcoming 725,000 stateless Rohingya refugees who fled Myanmar following the violence that erupted in the northern Rakhine State in late August 2017.
A major operational focus for UNHCR in 2018 has remained the refugee emergency in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. UNHCR has supported the Government in providing protection and delivering lifesaving assistance to some 900,000 stateless Rohingya refugees, including an estimated 200,000 who fled Rakhine State in previous waves of displacement. In June 2018, the monsoon season in Bangladesh left refugees vulnerable to landslides, flooding and disease. The Bangladeshi authorities, UNHCR, IOM and other partners worked to mitigate the risks and responded with emergency interventions, including search and rescue operations, relocations and the distribution of shelter kits and additional aid. More than one year after the current crisis began, Rohingya refugees continue to flee to Bangladesh, although in smaller numbers than in 2017. Since January 2018, over 13,000 Rohingya refugees have crossed into Bangladesh. The situation remains grim, and there are growing concerns about the future of an entire generation of Rohingya children.
In April 2018, UNHCR and Bangladesh signed a memorandum of understanding, which establishes a framework for cooperation on the safe, voluntary and dignified return of Rohingya refugees, in line with international standards, once conditions in Myanmar are conducive.
In June 2018, UNHCR, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Government of Myanmar signed a tripartite memorandum of understanding which establishes a framework for cooperation aimed at creating the conditions conducive for the safe, voluntary, dignified and sustainable repatriation of Rohingya refugees to their places of origin or of their choosing. Since the conditions are not yet conducive to voluntary return, the memorandum of understanding represents only a first, but necessary, step to support the Government’s efforts to this end.
In view of the enormous scale and diversity of the challenges facing the people of Rakhine State and the urgent need to find solutions, UNHCR is promoting the concept of “A Solidarity approach for the people of Rakhine State”. The approach plans to bring together a broad range of stakeholders in support of resilience, solutions and a decent life for the people of Rakhine State, wherever they may be.
Afghans remained the largest refugee population of concern to UNHCR in Asia and the Pacific. In total there were 2.2 million Afghan refugees worldwide in 2018, the majority of whom were hosted in the Islamic Republics of Iran and Pakistan. Nearly forty years since the start of the large-scale displacement of Afghans, the volatile security situation in Afghanistan continues to drive displacement in 2018, with over 175,800 persons estimated to be newly displaced within the country. It has also rendered humanitarian access increasingly difficult.
UNHCR continues to monitor the protection situation facing refugees who were transferred to Papua New Guinea and Nauru under Australia’s policy of “offshore processing.” Five years on, some 1,350 men, women and children still live in detention-like conditions, with many (including young children) suffering from acute mental illness. While UNHCR welcomes the ongoing relocation of refugees to the United States of America, it calls for urgent solutions to be secured for the hundreds who will remain, including those who were transferred to Australia for medical reasons and who are expected to return to Papua New Guinea and Nauru.