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Refugee protection in the Asia-Pacific

Challenges in the Asia-Pacific

The protection environment in the Asia-Pacific region is extremely challenging. Conditions in major countries of origin (such as Afghanistan and Burma) are characterised by protracted conflicts, ongoing insecurity and widespread violations of human rights. These conditions continue to compel flight and prevent refugees from returning home safely. Until these conditions improve – which, in most cases, is unlikely in the near future – refugees from these countries will continue to be in need of protection and assistance.

However, very few countries in the region are willing or able to provide this protection and assistance. Most countries in the region have not signed the 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol. Most do not have a legal and administrative framework for addressing refugee protection issues.

How refugees are treated in the Asia-Pacific

In these countries, refugees and people seeking asylum are generally treated in the same way as illegal migrants. Living conditions are often extremely difficult.

Few refugees or people seeking asylum have official permission to work. As a result, many face destitution. They are forced to rely on humanitarian assistance or to work illegally, risking arrest and detention. Many refugees and people seeking asylum are exploited by employers and by corrupt officials pressuring them to pay bribes. As well, refugees or people seeking asylum usually cannot get  health care, education, financial or other forms of social support they need to live decently.


Many also face detention because they are not recognised as refugees (even if registered with UNHCR) or people seeking asylum. Peopleoften experience violence and ill-treatment (including, in some cases, torture) in detention. Their physical and mental health suffer in the terrible conditions in detention centres.

It is very difficult for them to access justice or for them to be released from detention. Corruption among law enforcement officials is widespread. The monitoring of detention is inadequate, and there is often little or no access to legal advice or the courts. Once detained, refugees and people seeking asylum are at serious risk of being returned to their country of origin by force (refoulement).

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