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Southeast Asia

Where do you work in the region?

In fiscal year 2007 (from October 1, 2006 to September 30, 2007), the Bureau supported assistance programs and U.S. refugee and admissions programs in Thailand, Malaysia, and Bangladesh. We also monitor refugee, internally displaced persons (IDPs) and statelessness issues throughout Southeast Asia.

What are the major challenges for refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the region?

Burmese: There are over 140,000 Burmese refugees in ten official camps on the Thai-Burma border, and between 1.5 and 2 million illegal Burmese migrants in Thailand. In addition, some 670,000 stateless Rohingya (a Burmese ethnic group) living in Northern Rakhine State in Burma receive support from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the World Food Program (WFP) and other organizations, that is critical to their survival. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) estimate that there are over 500,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Burma; however, few organizations have access to assist them. In addition, nearly 30,000 Rohingya reside in two UNHCR-administered camps in Bangladesh; UNHCR is conducting much-needed improvements to the living conditions in these camps.

In FY 2008 (October 1, 2006 to September 30, 2007), Bureau policy objectives for Burmese refugees in Thailand include maintaining life-saving assistance to over 140,000 refugees in the official camps, and reinvigorating Thai government protection and screening for new arrivals. The UNHCR role in the Burmese border camps is protection; therefore NGOs conduct all Burmese refugee assistance activities along the Thai/Burmese border. In several camps in Thailand, the Bureau's funding supports food assistance, basic health care, water/sanitation, gender-based violence prevention and response, and micro-enterprise development programs through the International Refugee Committee (IRC), the American Refugee Committee (ARC) and the Thailand Burma Border Consortium (TBBC). These assistance activities reach an estimated 60,000 refugees.

Despite the renewed U.S. Government focus on Burma since the “Saffron Revolution” of September 2007, the funding outlook for most NGOs working on the border is grim. They are grappling with the precipitous decline in purchasing power, rice shortages, and soaring commodity and fuel prices, which are impeding their ability to respond to growing needs.

In 1991, more than 250,000 Burmese Rohingya refugees suffering oppression due to their Muslim faith and South Asian ethnicity, migrated from North Rakhine province to Bangladesh. During the 1990s, over 230,000 Rohingya refugees were repatriated from Bangladesh, leaving behind approximately 26,000 in two UNHCR camps in southern Bangladesh. A further 10,000 illegal Rohingya immigrants settled in an unofficial makeshift camp along the banks of the Naf River where they live in squalid conditions. In addition to those who remain in the camps, some who previously repatriated have returned to Bangladesh and are living without UNHCR protection, further increasing their vulnerability.

Montagnards: During the Vietnam War, U.S. Special Forces recruited thousands of Montagnards to fight alongside U.S. soldiers. Montagnards have been marginalized in Vietnam. Protests in 2001 and 2004 led to Government of Vietnam crackdowns and the flight of some two thousand Montagnard refugees into Cambodia. The January 2005 UNHCR Tripartite Memorandum of Understanding continues to be the framework for responding to Montagnard asylum-seekers in Cambodia. This agreement ensures temporary protection and assistance while UNHCR reviews refugee claims and finds durable solutions, including resettlement, for refugees. There are nearly 400 Montagnard individuals under UNHCR protection in Phnom Penh, with approximately 200-300 fleeing to Cambodia each year. In the last two years, over 200 Montagnards returned to the Central Highlands; a majority have been visited by monitors. The Bureau monitors the issue closely and looks for ways to improve the situation for returnees in the Central Highlands.

Hmong: The Hmong are an ethnic group indigenous to Laos and other neighboring countries. Thousands of Hmong in Laos aided the CIA during “The Secret War”, and some groups have been in hiding from the Lao Government in the jungles for last thirty years. Small numbers are continuing a rebel insurgency. Thousands of Hmong, some from jungle areas, have entered Thailand in recent years. Approximately 7,900 Lao-Hmong live in a settlement near Petchaboon, Thailand and over 150 UNHCR recognized “persons of concern” are being held in a government detention facility in Nong Khai. The Bureau's policy objectives for FY 2008 for the Lao-Hmong population include assuring fair and transparent screening for the 7,900 asylum-seekers living in the Petchaboon settlement

How much Bureau funding went to projects in the region in fiscal year 2008 (October 2007 – September 30, 2008)?

The Bureau programmed almost $34 million in East Asia, a portion of which was used to assist refugees, returnees, and other conflict victims in Southeast Asia.

Where are your Refugee Coordinators based? Which countries do they cover?

A refugee coordinator in Bangkok, Thailand, covers Southeast Asia and Bangladesh. In Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, the Bureau's Refugee Coordinator primarily manages the refugee Admissions to the US, but he also reports on conditions in the Central Highlands.

What are the largest and/or most complex projects you fund?

The 140,000 Burmese on the Thai-Burma Border are the largest refugee population funded by the Bureau in the region. In 2008, Burmese resettled from these camps constituted the largest single nationality resettled to the United States. The Burmese pose the most complex refugee situation.

What programs are the newest? Which ones are the oldest? Which have ended recently due to the end of a refugee crisis?

The newest programs are for Hmong refugees in Petchaboon and Nong Khai, Thailand. The oldest program is for Burmese on the Thai-Burmese border. The program for Montagnards recently ended; however, the US Embassy in Vietnam continues to monitor Montagnard refugee returns.

Which international organization (IO) and non-governmental organization (NGO) partners are active in your region?



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