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Asia Pacific NGO Statement for the UNHCR 59th Standing Committee

The Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APPRN) has prepared the Asia Pacific NGO Statement for the UNHCR 59th Standing Committee, held on 4-6 March 2014.

The key sections of the statement are set out below.

NGOs continue to be deeply concerned by the on-going lack of protection for refugees in most parts of the Asia Pacific region. This lack of protection is characterised by rights violations such as arbitrary arrest and detention, no right to work, and limited or no access to health services, education and vocational training opportunities. Refugees also endure lengthy registration and refugee status adjudication procedures. Once again in 2014 NGOs reiterate the call on States to protect and uphold human rights of refugees, to seek alternatives to detention, and to provide refugees with legal aid, psychosocial support, cultural orientation, community integration options, livelihood opportunities, and opportunities for active input into decisions that impact their protection rights.

Ratification of the Refugee Convention and Introduction of National Refugee Legislation

NGOs note with continued concern that only 20 of the 45 countries located in the Asia Pacific region are State parties to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and/or its 1967 Protocol. NGOs call on governments to take steps in ratifying these treaties and develop national legalization to ensure the protection of refugees and stateless persons.

Immigration Detention

NGOs welcome steps taken by several governments in the region to explore and implement alternatives to detention. NGOs also commend the UNHCR Regional Protection Unit on their engagement with civil society, National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs), and other International Organisations (IOs) in holding regional meetings and developing action plans on alternatives to detention.

Despite some progress, the increasing use of immigration detention remains a growing concern across the region for refugees, migrants, and stateless persons. A number of key, common concerns have been identified in many Asia Pacific countries, including:

  • The growing use of arbitrary, penal and punitive detention in conditions that fail to meet minimum international standards;
  • Lengthy and prolonged periods in detention, with restrictions on or denial of access to refugee status or statelessness determination procedures and/or judicial review of detention;
  • Lack of access to legal assistance and representation as well as proper interpretation services;
  • Restrictions on or denial of access to places of detention for NGOs and legal aid providers;
  • Detention of vulnerable groups: children (including unaccompanied minors); pregnant women; those with physical and mental health conditions; the elderly; and refugees, asylum seekers and UNHCR registered individuals;
  • The impact of detention on these vulnerable groups, including insecurity, separation (of children and families), lack of freedom, respect and privacy, isolation, cultural insensitivity and deterioration of physical and mental health; and;
  • The use of immigration detention as a migration management tool.

NGOs call upon governments in the Asia-Pacific region to explore and strengthen the use of alternatives to detention to prevent unnecessary and damaging detention practices. States must ensure that the right to liberty is ensured for those seeking international protection, and that immigration detention is only ever used as an absolute last resort. States must also ensure that children and other vulnerable groups are not subject to immigration detention.

Refugee Status Determination (RSD)

With regards to Refugee Status Determination (RSD), NGOs are concerned about restricted and inconsistent access to due process procedures across the region. UNHCR’s RSD adjudication in countries across the region differs substantially, with long and opaque processing, having adverse effects on the lives of asylum-seekers, and offering little or no protection. UNHCR falls short of meeting its own procedural guidelines on RSD especially on legal representation in many countries including Malaysia. Such legal representation is an essential part of procedural fairness and is a critical element in ensuring that UNHCR is transparent and accountable. We urge UNHCR to set standards for States to follow, and do so by adhering to its own guidelines. At the same time, NGOs welcome recent steps taken in India and Thailand by UNHCR to improve the RSD process.

Regional Protection

NGOs urge governments to further explore regional cooperation mechanisms which adopt a rights-based approach to addressing conditions and concerns in the source, transit and destination countries for refugees. NGOs voice concern on the very limited attention paid within the Bali Process to strengthening protection standards and recommend that an effective and ongoing mechanism be developed for multilateral state engagement with civil society to ensure a protection-focused approach in managing irregular migration and trafficking.

Indonesia

NGOs applaud the steps taken to explore alternatives to detention and the Indonesian National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM) undertaking to conduct monitoring visits to three detention centres since the second half of 2013. However concern persists over those languishing in detention without appropriate complaint procedures. In particular, NGOs are concerned by the conditions faced by women and unaccompanied minor detainees.

NGOs show concern over the slow progress in regard to the final Presidential ratification of the “Fixed Protocol (Protap) on Protection of Refugees and Asylum Seekers” that was prepared in 2013 by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with the involvement of various government and legal stakeholders, UN agencies and civil society organisations. We urge the Government to advocate for Ratification and to continue its work on the same in collaboration with civil society and other actors.

For the full statement, was well as the other regional statements, please see ICVA.

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