Asia

Asia

Hundreds of thousands have fled from violence in Myanmar and Afghanistan

Rohingya refugees use a makeshift raft to cross the Naf River from Myanmar into Bangladesh, Nov. 11, 2017. For many who have escaped, the ordeal has only begun. Photo: Tomas Munita/The New York Times/NTB Scanpix Rohingya refugees use a makeshift raft to cross the Naf River from Myanmar into Bangladesh, Nov. 11, 2017. For many who have escaped, the ordeal has only begun. Photo: Tomas Munita/The New York Times/NTB Scanpix

Rohingya refugees use a makeshift raft to cross the Naf River from Myanmar into Bangladesh, Nov. 11, 2017. For many who have escaped, the ordeal has only begun. Photo: Tomas Munita/The New York Times/NTB Scanpix

Rohingya refugees use a makeshift raft to cross the Naf River from Myanmar into Bangladesh, Nov. 11, 2017. For many who have escaped, the ordeal has only begun. Photo: Tomas Munita/The New York Times/NTB Scanpix

At the end of 2017, several hundred thousand Rohingya fled from the extreme violence in Myanmar. At the same time, many Afghan refugees returning home were met by a worsening security situation. Many were forced to flee again.

The international community has been eager to point to political and economic progress in Afghanistan after the NATO-led security operation concluded in 2014. In stark contrast, we are seeing a steadily worsening situation in Afghanistan. Displaced people are finding it increasingly difficult to find a safe haven inside or outside the country. A report from January 2018, written by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), shows that the conflict has worsened in parts of the country, and that, as a result, more people are forced to flee and more people need humanitarian aid. If you add the numbers of new refugees and internally displaced in Afghanistan, on average 1,600 people were forced to flee every day last year.

After Syrians and Palestinians, Afghans make up the largest group of refugees in the world. About three million people now reside in Pakistan and Iran, but it is getting increasingly difficult for Afghans to receive protection in their neighbouring countries. Many have been forced to return home, where they are often displaced again.

The situation is still strained in neighbouring Pakistan. Attacks from non-governmental armed groups and military counter-offensives in the north-east have forced people to flee for years. Even though many have now returned to their homes, almost 250,000 Pakistanis are still internally displaced.

A new wave of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh

In the autumn of 2017, the world's fastest growing displacement crisis took place in southeast Asia. From September 2017 to March 2018, 617,000 Rohingya fled from Myanmar to Bangladesh. One camp, Kutupalong-Balukhali, houses 600,000 people, making it the world's largest and most densely populated refugee camp. The need for humanitarian relief is staggering. The refugees are living in disastrous conditions. The life threatening floods, mudslides and cyclones during the rainy season (April to October) can have catastrophic consequences.

The Muslim Rohingya are an ethnic, linguistic and religious minority in Myanmar. They have been persecuted, neglected and left stateless for decades. The UN has described them as one of the most persecuted peoples in the world. The UN has encouraged the government in Myanmar to take action against religious nationalism and hate speech, urging them to improve the situation for the internally displaced people.

Bangladesh and Myanmar have made a deal to return the refugees, but the UN has warned against return because many of the Rohingya refugees' villages have been destroyed. Almost no refugees have returned so far.

Other minority groups are displaced in Myanmar

Many minority groups in Myanmar have been in conflict with the government for a long time. The conflicts are largely about control of natural resources and the minorities' demands for more autonomy. There have been several ceasefire agreements between rebel groups and the government over the years, but armed conflict is still ongoing in the north-east, near the border to China. According to the UN, it has become harder to reach people from the Rakine, Kachin and Shan states with aid over the last year.

98,000 people from the ethnic groups Karen, as well as people from other minorities, are refugees in Thailand. The work to return them home is slow due to little funding and a difficult security situation..

Many unsolved local conflicts in South and South-east Asia

Government forces in Indian Kashmir fired tear gas and pellets to disperse hundreds of protesters who clashed with them during an annual protest. Photo:Abbas Idrees/Shutterstock/NTB Scanpix Government forces in Indian Kashmir fired tear gas and pellets to disperse hundreds of protesters who clashed with them during an annual protest. Photo:Abbas Idrees/Shutterstock/NTB Scanpix

Government forces in Indian Kashmir fired tear gas and pellets to disperse hundreds of protesters who clashed with them during an annual protest. Photo:Abbas Idrees/Shutterstock/NTB Scanpix

Government forces in Indian Kashmir fired tear gas and pellets to disperse hundreds of protesters who clashed with them during an annual protest. Photo:Abbas Idrees/Shutterstock/NTB Scanpix

A Sri Lankan Tamil woman holds a picture of a missing loved one during a gathering to remember those who have been missing for nearly a decade since the end of the country's drawn out separatist war in the capital Colombo on February 14, 2018. Photo: Ishara S. Kodikara/AFP/NTB Scanpix

A Sri Lankan Tamil woman holds a picture of a missing loved one during a gathering to remember those who have been missing for nearly a decade since the end of the country's drawn out separatist war in the capital Colombo on February 14, 2018. Photo: Ishara S. Kodikara/AFP/NTB Scanpix

Conflicts involving minority groups fighting for more autonomy, and against perceived economic and political marginalisation, are the main causes for displacement in the region. Most of the conflicts are local, with few regional consequences. In several places, people are mobilising along ethnic and religious divides. In addition to Myanmar, we see this in India, Indonesia and the Philippines. These local conflicts usually get little regional or international attention.

With the exception of Cambodia and the Philippines, no country in the region has signed the UN's Refugee Convention. Nevertheless, countries such as Thailand have received a large number of refugees over the last fifty years.

Tension in Kashmir

In 2017, the conflict in Kashmir forced 120,000 to flee. Kashmir is one of the most militarised zones in the world. The region has been divided between India and Pakistan since gaining independence from Great Britain in 1947. Radical Muslim groups in the area have been in conflict with the Indian government for a number of years.

Confrontation between different religious groups, especially between Hindus and Muslims, is a recurring problem across India.

Deep traces of the conflict in Sri Lanka

In 2016, the Sri Lankan government introduced a national policy creating a long-term solution for those displaced by the 2009 civil war between the government and the Tamil tigers. Areas previously under military control since 2015 have been released, allowing internally displaced people and refugees to return home. But the Tamil areas are struggling economically, and residual tensions in the area have resulted in few returns. A report by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) from March 2018 stated that the government has been unable or unwilling to address topics such as impunity for serious crimes and violations of international humanitarian law.

More people fleeing in the Philippines

645.000

people were forced to flee conflict in the Philippines last year according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ Global Trends study.


On the island of Mindanao, people have fled armed conflict, clan- based violence and human rights violations for years. The Muslim population on Mindanao, the Moro, feel marginalised by the government. Even though a deal was made between the largest armed group and the government in 2014, the situation is still tense. In addition, the Muslims are divided. This became clear in May 2017 when an armed group associated with the Islamic State group (IS) took control of the Mindanao city of Marawi. The fighting left the city in ruins and forced hundreds of thousands to flee.

In 2017, peace negotiations between the communist party National Democratic Front and the government came to a halt. The guerrilla organisation New People's Army, the armed branch of the communist party, are spread out over large areas of the Philippines. In some areas, they have been specifically recruiting from indigenous peoples.

West Papua – a forgotten injustice

Since Indonesia gained control over the province in the 1960s, serious human rights violations, and a ban on all political activity relating to the struggle for increased autonomy, have characterised the situation in West Papua. The Papuans are a Melanesian people whose cultural identity is completely different from the culture of the Indonesians who migrated there.

In 2017, the UN's Special Committee on Decolonisation did not accept a petition signed by 1.8 million West Papuans calling for independence, saying that the territory is not on its list of non-self- governing territories.

There are limited reports of conditions there, which means that no one knows how many people are displaced in the province. About 10,000 refugees from West Papua reside in neighbouring country Papua New Guinea.

North Korean refugees are denied asylum in China

Behnam Satah, a Kurdish refugee, on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea. “Sometimes I cut myself so that I can see my blood and remember, Oh, yes! I am alive,'" Satah said. Photo: Ashley Gilbertson/The New York Times/NTB Scanpix Behnam Satah, a Kurdish refugee, on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea. “Sometimes I cut myself so that I can see my blood and remember, Oh, yes! I am alive,'" Satah said. Photo: Ashley Gilbertson/The New York Times/NTB Scanpix

Behnam Satah, a Kurdish refugee, on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea. “Sometimes I cut myself so that I can see my blood and remember, Oh, yes! I am alive,'" Satah said. Photo: Ashley Gilbertson/The New York Times/NTB Scanpix

Behnam Satah, a Kurdish refugee, on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea. “Sometimes I cut myself so that I can see my blood and remember, Oh, yes! I am alive,'" Satah said. Photo: Ashley Gilbertson/The New York Times/NTB Scanpix

The North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, was the target of much media attention in 2017. Despite this, there was little coverage of the humanitarian situation and how difficult it is to flee the country. An estimated 50,000-200,000 North Korean refugees are hiding in China, where they are seen as irregular migrants. If caught, they will be returned to North Korea without the opportunity to seek asylum. This is happening despite China being party to the Refugee Convention. Instead, many attempt to get to South Korean embassies in countries such as Thailand to apply for asylum. Since the end of the Korean war, more than 30,000 North Korean refugees have made it to South Korea.

Australia says yes to resettlement refugees, but no to boat refugees

Australia has a very strict policy regarding asylum seekers attempting to reach the country by boat. The asylum seekers are picked up at sea and transported to Nauru and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea, where their applications for asylum are processed. Even those granted asylum are not allowed into Australia. They must stay on the islands. According to the UN, the living conditions for refugees are poor. Papua New Guinea's supreme court has ruled that it is illegal to indefinitely detain people who have not committed any crimes. As a result, Australia shut down their reception facilities on Papua New Guinea in 2017.

While Barack Obama was president, the US signed a deal to receive 1250 resettlement refugees from the centres on Nauru and Manus. Trump has been a vocal critic of this agreement, but a small number of resettlement refugees have still been allowed entry to the US in 2017 and 2018.

This young man was attacked by drunken locals with rocks, seen on the phone of another refugee on Los Negros island, near Manus, Papua New Guinea. Photo: Ashley Gilbertson/The New York Times/NTB Scanpix

This young man was attacked by drunken locals with rocks, seen on the phone of another refugee on Los Negros island, near Manus, Papua New Guinea. Photo: Ashley Gilbertson/The New York Times/NTB Scanpix