Asia’s forgotten refugees — the big picture

As waves of refugee crises continue to make international headlines, Southeast Asian nations face their own challenges to support and protect millions of refugees and asylum seekers.

Across the region, people continue to flee conflict and political persecution and have sought to make new homes with varying degrees success or failure. For some nations the numbers are overwhelming

In this series, UCAN reporters explore the situation facing refugees displaced by ongoing fighting between Islamic militant groups and government forces in Mindanao. Recent fighting in the province of Sulu has displaced some 20,000 people but this represents a fraction of the refugee population in Southeast Asia.

An unknown number of people have fled from the Philippines into eastern Malaysia — estimates run from the tens of thousands and higher. There, undocumented and uncounted, living an area with porous sea borders, they are Southeast Asia’s latest group of forgotten refugees from a decades long conflict existing on the edges of society and the focus of this series.

Yet they are just the latest group in a region where so many are now living away from their homeland, many in a stateless condition with limited access to education and decent health services beyond those aid agencies can provide.

In Thailand, the U.N. Refugee Agency reports that more than 560,000 people live in situations of statelessness, as refugees and asylum seekers, or in refugee-like situations. Small numbers of them include Christian Pakistanis, Syrians, Chinese and Iraqis, among others.

The vast majority, however, come from Myanmar, where a range of conflicts have seen hundreds of thousands fleeing over several decades. Approximately 100,000 people live in nine camps on the Thai-Myanmar border. They are mainly people of Karen, Karenni, Burmese and Mon ethnicity, who initially arrived and were placed in camps during the early 1980s after fleeing conflict in southeastern Myanmar, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency. Continue reading


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