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Moment of Decision: Seeking Durable Solutions in Southeast Asia - Report of Migration and Refugee Services of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

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WASHINGTON—As the United Nations General Assembly holds its refugee summit in New York, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' (USCCB) Migration & Refugee Services has released a report assessing the refugee crisis in Southeast Asia.

While the Syrian and Central American migration situations have recently been in the spotlight, Burma /Myanmar's decades-long refugee crisis prompted a trip to the region also including Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Australia. The USCCB Migration & Refugee Services delegation met with unaccompanied children, refugees, victims of human trafficking, local governments, Catholic and faith-based non-governmental organizations, and community leaders to better understand the humanitarian crisis and what can be done.

Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, auxiliary bishop of Seattle and chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration, who led the delegation said, "This trip was eye-opening for me. I join my brother bishops in the Burma region and elsewhere to pray for peace and continued reform and rebuilding in the country. I pray for continued protection, humanitarian assistance, and pursuit of durable solutions for all those who are displaced."

The report comes at an important time for Burma, after six decades of being ruled by a military regime. Burma now has a democratically elected government. Some of the findings throughout the region include:

  • A special focus is needed on the Rohingya refugees challenge. Most of them suffer the vulnerabilities of being forcibly displaced, being stateless and thus targets of human rights violations and discrimination, and being victims of human smuggling or trafficking. Yet their plight is not addressed by either the national election or by the ethnic negotiations with the government.

  • There is a disturbing pattern of human trafficking of refugees and migrant workers throughout the region. In the last three years, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), over 170,000 people –Bangladeshis and Rakhine State Muslims from Bangladesh and Myanmar– have resorted to dangerous sea journeys across the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea at the hands of human smugglers and traffickers.

  • Those seeking refuge in temporary shelters in Thailand continue to experience a reduction in humanitarian support, including reduced food rations. Urban refugees in Malaysia also have serious humanitarian and protection concerns.

  • Increased numbers of Pakistani Christians seeking refuge in Thailand and Malaysia, who now constitute some 40 percent of all UNHCR refugees in Bangkok, are also in dire need of protection and durable solutions, as are Montagnard Christians from Vietnam who have fled to Thailand. Syrians, Iraqis, and Iranians who have fled to Malaysia are additionally experiencing difficulty finding protection and building new lives. And Indonesia has become a collection area for refugees who were turned away from seeking refuge in Australia.

The U.N. General Assembly and the U.S. co-sponsored Leaders' Refugee Summit take place September 19-20. The report and the summits are focusing on the need for shared responsibility by the international community to address this unprecedented crisis and the hope for all refugees to someday return to their homelands.