Considered safe havens for many, Southeast Asian countries, in particular Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia have long hosted considerable numbers of asylum seekers and refugees from various nationalities who seek protection and assistance outside of their home countries. However, the lack of national frameworks to protect asylum seekers and refugees leave many in highly vulnerable situations as they are considered illegal and are therefore often denied their fundamental right to protection.
Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia are the largest host countries for refugees in Southeast Asia. Nonetheless, they are not signatories to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. These countries may be willing to increase protection space, which will result in a more formalised legal recognition of asylum seekers and refugees; however, the current lack of national legal protection mechanisms effectively renders these communities ‘illegal migrants’ and therefore in need of assistance.
Over the past few years, an unprecedented surge in mixed migratory flows has resulted in a growing backlog of asylum seekers and refugees in Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. During this extensive period of waiting, they are exposed to a wide range of risks, including detention, exploitation, persecution, and economic hardship as they do not have the right to work. Currently, there are more than 180 000 asylum seekers and refugees living in the three Southeast Asian countries, the vast majority of whom live in capital cities and urban areas.
Due to their geographic locations, the three countries are also exposed to a wide array of natural disasters, ranging from floods to tropical storms, landslides, droughts, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, and earthquakes.
In response to the rapidly growing number of asylum seekers and refugees in Southeast Asia, from 2017 to 2018 the European Union provided €1.8 million in humanitarian aid to enhance protection to vulnerable individuals in Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia.
Implemented by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the intervention focuses on the acceleration of the refugee status determination (RSD) process for asylum seekers and refugees in the three countries, with the aim to reduce the massive backlogs of pending RSD cases. This will result in shorter waiting times, thereby contributing to the improved protection of asylum seekers and refugees. A faster RSD process will also help minimise the psychological impact on asylum seekers who are likely to remain in limbo as long as their status remains unclear. Special attention goes to the most vulnerable men, women, and children, particularly those currently in detention. The initiative will directly benefit 13 350 people by the end of the project in December 2018.
Thanks to EU funding, UNHCR has increased its refugee status determination capacity allowing it to adjudicate refugee status determination decisions of nearly 6 000 individuals from July 2016 to June 2017.
Since 2013, more than €1.1 million have been allocated to provide emergency humanitarian support to Rohingya and Bangladesh migrants detained in immigration detention centres and shelters in Thailand and Indonesia. From 1995 to 2016, the EU also provided a total of almost €120 million in humanitarian aid to refugees from Myanmar residing in camps along the border in Thailand, prioritising mainly food assistance and primary health care.
The European Commission's Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) have been present in the three countries for more than two decades, providing funding to assist people affected by conflict and natural disasters, such as the 2004 tsunami. In December 2017, the European Union provided €100 000 to support the delivery of relief assistance to families affected by a series of volcanic eruptions from Mount Agung on the Indonesian island of Bali.