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pDOY"OK_zH5?Vvj|IG't&&l1Re: UNHCR p

Subject: pDOY"OK_zH5?Vvj|IG't&&l1Re: UNHCR policy affects Burmese asylum seekers


On 19 Feb 1996 brelief@xxxxxxx wrote:

> From: brelief@xxxxxxx (Ken and Visakha Kawasaki)
> Subject: UNHCR policy affects Burmese asylum seekers
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> Although the following objective report may be rather dry reading, it
> describes a deplorable "Catch 22" situation with dire consequences for
> thousands of Burmese asylum seekers in Thailand.  These people ought not =
> forgotten by the Burmese democracy movement but the question is, what can=
> done?. =20
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> January 1996
> UNHCR policies affecting asylum seekers in Bangkok
> In the refugee camps along the Thai-Burma border, refugees
> have access to basic humanitarian support from various
> NGOs. They also have the benefit of being recognized as
> prima facie refugees by UNHCR. (This means they are
> considered refugees unless otherwise proven.) UNHCR does
> not have a protection role over the refugees in the border, but
> as long as the refugees remain inside the refugee camps, they
> can avail of the support from NGOs, and the tolerance of the
> Thai government about their presence. The moment they leave
> the border refugee camps, their status reverts to "illegal
> entrants". Ironically, with the UNHCR office in Bangkok, the
> refugees need to risk going to Bangkok first as "illegal
> entrants" before being able to apply for the formal UNHCR
> recognition
> In June 1995, the UNHCR office in Bangkok came out with a
> policy that all "persons of concern" in Bangkok will be cut -
> off from financial, medical and educational support. Instead,
> all forms of support would only be available in the safe area
> The safe area was established in 1992 by Thailand's Ministry
> of Interior, originally only for Burmese students. Every month
> after the policy came into effect. UNHCR cut - off 50 - 100
> cases from their list and asked these cases to avail of UNHCR
> assistance and protection in the safe area.  By the end of
> January 1996, all (approx. 2500) regular cases had already
> stopped receiving support in Bangkok. Furthermore, all new
> arrivals who were recognized by UNHCR were not to receive
> any support in Bangkok and would immediately be sent to the
> safe area. This meant that all new asylum seekers did not have
> the option of staying in Bangkok anymore. All those who
> remained in Bangkok risked arrest and detention even with the
> "person of concern" status. Today, officially, the only Burmese
> that UNHCR supports in Bangkok are those waiting for the
> results of the status determination process, emergencies,
> scholars and special cases.
> FISRAPT, the Foundation functioning as UNHCR's social
> service arm gradually ceased programs for the Burmese.
> This policy brought an influx of new residents to the safe area.
> As a result, serious overcrowding occurred. UNHCR had to
> rush the building of temporary housing and permanent long
> houses. From a low of 12 residents when it first opened, and an
> average of 150 residents in the succeeding years. the safe area's
> population rose to over 500 few months after the policy was
> effected. By the end of December 1995, there were reportedly
> over 600 residents. Also. the support of the agencies present in
> the safe area was stretched. There was a shortage of supplies as
> agencies struggled to meet the demands of an increased
> population.  Distribution of hygiene kits was stopped. Mental
> health conditions deteriorated. Many succumbed to depression,
> insecurity and violent behavior. Residents also felt that there
> was insufficient medical facilities and full - time medical
> personnel to take care of their medical needs.
> With the increase in applications to enter the safe area, what
> resulted was a long writing period for the Burmese to be able
> to enter the safe area. Supposedly, the reason for the delay was
> that the court in Ratchaburi, where the safe area is located,
> could only handle 20 cases a week.  The Burmese needed to go
> through court procedures to clear them of the illegal entry
> charges and to "legalize" their stay in Thailand. The waiting
> period for entry to the safe area was anywhere from 2 weeks to
> 8 weeks While waiting for entry, they are not eligible for any
> assistance from UNHCR. The persons of concern struggled to
> find means of surviving while waiting in Bangkok.
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