Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Refugees in Nepal: Challenges Ahead

Sahana Basavapatna and Ishita Dey

As we wind up 2011 edition of Refugee Watch Online (RWO), we at RWO realize that this year, like the years before this, has been instructive in more ways than one. While some developments, such as the Australia-Malaysia swap arrangement made us realize how precarious not only the lives of the refugees but also the laws that we dearly hold on to. Closer home, the challenges are equally intimidating; while mechanisms exist, its history, politics and society provide as much of a challenge as it may be conducive for a better deal for refugees in South Asia.

In this last edition of RWO, we want to bring to the forefront some of the challenges facing Nepal, a country that has witnessed prolonged internal conflict. Nepal, a non- signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention or 1967 Refugee Protocol has played the host and transit point to refugee groups, primarily Bhutanese and Tibetans. While the history of Bhutanese refugees in and Tibetans in Nepal is not unknown to us, the challenges these communities face needs some deeper introspection. After 27 years of living in camps in Nepal, the Bhutanese refugee crisis could not be resolved although this period witnessed fifteen rounds of ministerial-level negotiations between Bhutan and Nepal. Thus, finding themselves unwanted in Nepal and losing the right to return, the Bhutanese refugees were offered the Third Country Resettlement option. In 2006, the aggravating Bhutanese Refugee crisis suddenly saw an unexpected turn in the form of the United States of America offering to resettle 60,000 refugees. Similar promises followed from other countries such as Norway, Denmark, Canada, Australia and New Zealand – known as Core Working Group – to take a small share of refugees to their country. The resettlement process began in 2008. Sreeja Balarajan, in her article gives a critical insight to the life of Bhutanese refugees resettled in US. Is third country resettlement a viable solution to those who had dreamed of returning back to their homelands in Bhutan? What does it take to rebuild lives as younger generation gear up for the American dream and the older generation struggle to adapt themselves in a new environment where they find it difficult to adapt as they lack adequate communication skills?

One of the largest communities who have been forced to live a life of exile in South Asian states are the Tibetan refugees. Tibetans have lived in Nepal for decades while some transit through Nepal to travel further south towards India. In the recent times, there have been reports of closure of Reception Centre and Welfare Office of Tibetan refugees as well as arbitrary arrests of Tibetans. In a recent remark, Congressman Mr. Frank Wolf threatened to cut off aid to Nepal if it does not allow Tibetan Refugees to transit to safer places. Tashi Dhundup responds and cautions us that this statement presents Nepal the tough choice to either articulate an independent position on the Tibetan issue or succumb to the pressures of neighbours for other political reasons. Drawing from Nepal’s history of treating Tibetan refugees, it is evident that Nepal has been forced to resort to violent measures to safeguard its diplomatic position in the region.

Both these articles remind us of the challenges that confront of refugee rights practitioners. In what ways can we strengthen legal protection of refugees? While some have been advocating that South Asian states should sign the 1951 Refugee Convention; international and humanitarian agencies working in non-signatory states should also lobby for National legislation to protect and safeguard the rights of the refugees. The concern raised in both these articles need a deeper introspection on the way to respond to people affected by forced displacement in South Asia and beyond.

The editorial collective of 2011 has attempted to bring such concerns. We take this opportunity to thank our readers for their comments and look forward to more engaging contributions and comments from refugee activists, researchers and lawyers in the areas of forced migration in South Asia and beyond in 2012 as well. Please feel free to get in touch with us for any clarifications.

UNHCR Reports Indicate Resettlement Programme from Bhutanese Refugees Crosses 50,000 Marks

Jai Prasad Sunuwar flew to South Dakota in the United States earlier this month, becoming the 50,000th refugee originating from Bhutan to be resettled from Nepal under a programme launched four years ago by UNHCR and its partners.

Under one of UNHCR's largest resettlement programmes, more than 42,000 of the refugees have begun new lives in the United States. Others have left camps in eastern Nepal for resettlement in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. They had come to Nepal during the early 1990s, fleeing ethnic tensions in Bhutan.

When the resettlement programme began in November 2007 there were almost 110,000 refugees from Bhutan residing in seven camps in eastern Nepal, three of which have since been closed. Of those remaining in the camps, some 47,000 have expressed an interest in resettlement.

The UN refugee agency is responsible for interviewing refugees and referring their files to resettlement countries, while the International Organization for Migration conducts health assessments, organizes cultural orientation courses and transports the refugees from Nepal to their countries of resettlement.

For details see; Accessed on 19 September 2011

US Lawmaker Warns Nepal of Aid Cut over Tibetans

Agence France Presse: 2011-11-05
Washington: A US lawmaker has threatened to strip Nepal of its millions of dollars in US aid unless it permits refugees fleeing Chinese rule in Tibet to transit through the country.

Nepal is the main route for Tibetans who seek to go into exile, but the country has increasingly cracked down on Tibetans’ movement and activities out of fear of upsetting its giant neighbour to the north.

Representative Frank Wolf, who sits on the House Appropriations Committee that determines US funding, said yesterday he would try to block funding to Nepal unless it grants exit visas to Tibetans who seek refuge in the United States. “We’re not just going to cut them, we’re going to zero them out,” said Wolf, a Republican from Virginia and outspoken critic of China. “If they’re not willing to do it, then they don’t share our values and if they don’t share our values, we do not want to share our dollars,” he told a congressional hearing on Tibet.

Wolf said he would propose the aid cutoff if Nepal’s record does not improve by the time the United States looks at foreign aid funding next year. Human rights groups have frequently accused Nepal of arbitrary arrests and harassment of Tibetans. In July, Nepal prevented its 20,000-strong Tibetan community from celebrating the birthday of spiritual leader the Dalai Lama. The United States has supported Nepal as it recovers from a decade-long civil war.

The US Agency for International Development says it sought $57.7 million for Nepal in the 2010 fiscal year and that its efforts to provide children in Nepal with Vitamin A have averted some 15,000 deaths a year.

( Tashi Dhundup responds to this comment in the section on Views)

Short Course on Forced Migration

The Center for Migration and Refugee Studies (CMRS) at the American University in Cairo (AUC) is offering the following four short courses during the month of January and February 2012

1. Demographics Measures of Migration (January 29- February 2, 2012):

Course Description: The course will provide post-graduate students, international agency staff, NGO workers, government officials and others working in the field of migration data systems or interested in working in this field with an introduction to the demography of migration, including data sources, data collection, and analysis of international migration data. By the end of the course, and through presentations, case studies and real country data from developing and developed countries, participants will be able to identify migration data sources, read and understand the meanings of migration statistics, rates, and indicators, and be able to calculate main migration indicators. A very basic knowledge of mathematics, use of handheld calculators or Excel is required.

2. Migration and Refugee Movements in the Middle East and North Africa (February 5-9, 2012):

Course Description: For decades, the Middle East and North Africa region has been plagued by a multitude of political and socio-economic challenges. Population displacement has featured prominently among these challenges, and is firmly embedded in the geo-political realities of inter-State conflict and internal civil strife, as well as predominantly undemocratic systems of governance, yet it does not feature as prominently as it should in the study of the region. MENA hosts the world’s largest and longest-standing refugee problem: that of Palestinian refugees, in addition to millions of displaced Iraqis, and thousands of other displaced groups. This course will analyze the trends, causes, and consequences of asylum and migration for individuals and societies in MENA, while highlighting the political and historic context. This practice-oriented course will rely on a basic understanding of international human rights and refugee law in its analysis of asylum and migration patterns in the Levant, North Africa, Horn of Africa, and the Gulf.

3. Palestinian Refugees (February 12-16, 2012)

Course Description: The Palestinian refugee problem is perhaps the most sensitive issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and one of the most vexing continuing challenges to international refugee policy. This inter-disciplinary course will be an opportunity for students to engage directly with the major practical and theoretical issues connected with Palestinian refugees, critically assessing the historical, political, legal and ideological forces that have shaped their turbulent circumstances. The course will consider perspectives from both Israeli and Palestinian viewpoints, including fields of history, law, and the social sciences, and will analyze a number of primary texts.

4. Training Skills for Trainers of Psychosocial and Mental Health Workers in Countries Affected by Emergencies (February 18-25, 2012)

Course Description: Refugees and migrants struggle with the mental health and psychosocial consequences of their experiences in the aftermath of wars, conflict, natural disasters and other emergencies. Efforts for mental health and psychosocial supportive services span the globe and are often part of aid operations. Professionals commonly need to prepare the teams to provide these services.

Eligibility for all Courses:

The courses are offered for graduate level students, researchers and practitioners in the field of migration and refugees. The maximum number of participants in each course is between 25-30.

All courses are conducted in English and no translation facilities are provided. Participants should have a sufficient command of the English language.

Application Procedure for all Courses:

To apply for the courses, please fill out the application below and attach your most recent CV and send to Att. Ms. Naseem Hashim

Visit the CMRS Short Course web page for more information:

Applicants may apply and be accepted to more than one course. Please do not hesitate to contact if you have any difficulty with the application process.

The deadline for submitting course applications is January 10, 2012.

Wolf’s Warning, will the ‘Sheep’ Listen or Kowtow again to ‘Dragon’

Tashi Dhundup

(Tashi is a Tibetan in exile, and an independent researcher.)

Keeping in mind the increasingly kowtowing behavior of the Nepalese polity in terms of its treatment towards the Tibetans in Nepal, the recent remark by the US lawmaker Frank Wolf ( For Details refer to the press release in the News Section of this edition) to cut off aid to Nepal will surely be welcomed by the Tibetans and their supporters with great hoopla. But even though it is an encouraging remark nonetheless, it might prove imperative to greet it with guarded enthusiasm. It is urgent to understand or to question in that regard, what outcome such a caveat will receive.

If we were to look back, beginning 2008, despite intense pressure from the International diplomatic communities and media outcry, the Nepalese Government went on nonchalantly to break the skulls of the Tibetan protestors and in between orchestrated the closure of two important and indispensible Tibetan community related offices vis-à-vis Tibetan Reception Center and the Tibetan Welfare Office that has been in existence for the last several decades. Not to mention the spree of clandestine and arbitrary house arrest that followed. These were already in addition to the deportation of around fifteen Tibetans in 2003 which was another milestone of easing up to the Chinese by the Nepalese Government. Despite such an outpour of public brick batting, if the Nepalese Government had wittingly continued to do the status quo, to what consequence this latest ultimatum of Representative Wolf will bear fruit remains fanciful.

The important thing to consider would be what such an ultimatum would do to the already deteriorating situations of the Tibetans in Nepal, both the residents and the ones fleeing through Nepal for that matter. For one, instead of easing up the situation it might prove otherwise, resulting in the already emaciated but now provoked law enforcers of Nepal to wield their batons upon the Tibetan recipients more forcefully. Another point to consider would be what effect it will have on the general psyche of the ordinary Nepalese citizens who are either ill-informed or unaware of the Tibetan issue in general. There is a possibility that their lackadaisical understanding of the Tibetan situation might simply turn into hate. Add to that the reaction of the Nepalese officials, who even though might portray a benign face officially, but in private might simply make the procurement of any kind of official documents by the Tibetans even more harder.

Let’s now turn to Representative Frank Wolf. Is the congressman serious or is it just a lone man’s cry with the rest of the legislators shrugging their shoulders in non-commitment, for unlike the Chinese where there are no two opinions in dealing with the Tibet situation, the American policy does not enjoy such a unified stand. And even if Congressman Wolf is serious, keeping in mind the divided opinions among the American Congressmen regarding the Tibet situation, this warning might not amount to much. In such disparity, wouldn’t it be more effective if the pressure were induced from the Indian front, keeping in mind the ‘erstwhile unacknowledged influential sway’ the Indian polity has on the Nepalese domestic politics. And wouldn’t it make even more sense, if the purpose is to aid the Tibetans in Nepal, to play the hardballs with the Chinese directly by employing the age old diplomatic card of ‘carrot and stick’.

But all these might not necessarily call for Nepal to be complacent. Even though the Nepalese Government has quickly forgotten the role Tibet as a country played in their admission into the United Nations, it is high time that Nepal should for their own good begin to stand upon their own mettle. It should begin to resist the bullying from both from the Chinese and the Indian side. Even though maintaining friendly diplomatic relation is important, it doesn’t call for the Nepalese Government’s complete prostration to the Chinese. Even though this warning might not prove in the flow of the funds from the U.S. to be deficient, the Nepalese Government should not take this warning on face value nonetheless. With the declining image of Nepal in their treatment of the Tibetans, it is a bad news already that such an ultimatum came from the US and it might do good for the Nepalese Government to stop their tomfoolery and straighten up their act, especially, when so much of a hullabaloo has been created for the attainment of a Republic, where freedom of speech, assembly and expression are the guiding principles.

Attaining Trishanku’s Heaven: Bhutanese Refugee Resettlement in the United States

Sreeja Balarajan

‘Bhutanese refugees’ will elicit you a result, unimaginable, a couple of decades ago. Even in the late 1990s, Bhutanese refugees did not generate the kind of results, they do today. This explosion of ‘knowledge’ regarding the Bhutanese refugees has coincided with one of the largest refugee resettlement process in recent years. It is unlike any focus and attention that the Bhutanese refugees have faced since their flight from Southern Bhutan.

Initially, the issue of Bhutanese refugees was to be resolved by a joint verification process between Nepal and Bhutan. This long drawn-out process ended in a stalemate but repatriation to Bhutan was never achieved. While technically contained within the camps, the Nepali-speaking Bhutanese refugees had the dubious distinction of being refugees in a region ethnically similar to their own community and in many senses, moved freely in the larger sub-continent. Refugees travelled to India and throughout Nepal to meet their relatives, for education, employment, business, and some visited southern Bhutan clandestinely.

Within its uneasy birth and legacy, the Bhutanese refugee activism went through several phases, ranging from peaceful advocacy for repatriation, militancy, political front groups, and parties of all shades, splintering, coalescing, disappearing and coming together. The refugees were not immune to the larger socio-political movement in Nepal and the surrounding region of India. Not allowed access to legal employment and higher education, frustrated at their situation and lack of will by the international community, they were easy targets as recruits for political movements in the region.1

South Asian states, with their cross-cutting ethnic communities, have a history of internal conflict and intra-state conflict and tension as well. The increasing militancy among the refugee youth, Bhutan’s refusal to accept them back, coincided with the interests of the Core Working Group2 of countries, and pushed the third country resettlement concept as a ‘durable solution’ the Bhutanese refugee issue. Many refugees look back to the defining incident of 9/11 a decade ago.3They point towards the international community and the west, which felt compelled to choose one refugee population over another.4 Hence the advocacy of the resettlement process, which gradually came to the forefront, was dogged with a lack of transparency, secrecy, and misinformation.5

The first batch of refugees started coming to the United States in early 2008. By end of June 2011, there were around 47,843 Bhutanese refugees resettled into the United States.6 Nearly 50,000 refugees have been resettled abroad to all the countries; with a Bhutanese refugee who was resettled into the United States in South Dakota.7

In an age, where the South Asian youth aspires to go abroad, the educated and savvy Bhutanese refugee finds his/her golden opportunity in the third country resettlement process. Many such refugees will follow the expected path of other immigrants in the US. For others, it is less than robust. The refugees face the hard realities of the ‘American Dream’ in the time of economic stress and overburdened resettlement system. The Bhutanese refugees have the highest suicide rate among the re-settled refugees in the United States. A study done by the IOM, finds that suicide rate in the camps has increased from 20.3 percent per 100,000 to 27.3, post-resettlement, to 31 per 100,000 among those resettled in the US.8 An IOM study reported 12 cases of Bhutanese refugee suicides upon resettlement to a third country from 2007 until present, but it is acknowledged that this information is incomplete and, moreover, that there is no information on suicide attempts.9

The well intentioned but inherently asymmetrical power relations in the resettlement process has been debilitating for the refugees. The prospects of unemployment, stress on the traditional family and gender roles, isolation, and culture shock has affected the refugee population. Everything is not ‘as close to heaven as possible’ and ‘the necessity to adapt in a very short period to a new cultural and socioeconomic context can threaten the refugees’ self-concepts and creates disorientation’.10

In most cases, the younger refugees, with middle-aged parents are the primary wage earners for their families. The resettlement process has put majority of the Bhutanese refugees in the traditional employment path of newly arrived refugees in the US. These are predominantly entry level jobs. The younger age group and women (from all age levels) have been largely absorbed into the hospitality and retail industry. Food processing sectors like meat-packing factories have has absorbed the low skilled refugees from all age groups.11 Middle-aged and elderly refugees, forced to supplement their incomes, find work in less–than-desirable scenarios. Though the resettlement agencies are not ‘employment agencies’; they do facilitate employment opportunities. These agencies usually provide orientation services, follow-up and support services for employment.12 However, preliminary surveys and media reports indicate that there is no process to verify the effectiveness of such support services. Mostly, Bhutanese refugees (particularly new-arrivals) have to rely on kin-networks for employment opportunities.

The elderly refugees tend to be isolated due to language, and employment barriers and the changing family hierarchies. This generation has resigned themselves to the reality of never regaining what they lost. Parents with inadequate English language abilities are compelled to seek employment and are often held ransom by their school-going children as they can adapt to the language and other skills in the new environment.

An important question, often left unaddressed in this discourse is the role evangelical and proselytizing groups in the resettlement process. These groups often work alongside the resettlement agencies, stepping in to fill the gaps in the system, which the resettlement agencies are unable to meet. The unequal power relations of culture, social and economic status and perceptions of religion, combined with the burden of obligation, also contributes to the process of racial stereotyping.

During the initial phase, the reality of ‘the business of living’ has overshadowed the political aspects of their cause. A plethora of community organizations have mushroomed in the U.S.A. Many are cautious about the perception of any political activity/allegiance. For those who were born in Bhutan and were young adults in the camps, the frustrations, downward mobility and rigors of life in the U.S. are more real. Given the reality of geo-political interests in the region, these aspirants might well find themselves as pawns in the larger power politics of South Asia.

The Bhutanese refugee networks, by way of online forums, news agencies and communication have also given rise to a vibrant discourse on the issues that concern the refugees. Increasingly these networks have allowed the Bhutanese refugees to take ownership, and become active participants on the questions and narratives of their identity, belonging and citizenship.

The unequal power structures in the resettlement system, will offer complex challenges for the Bhutanese refugees straddling the thin line between ‘orientation’ and ‘assimilation’. For the Nepali-Bhutanese, the flight from southern Bhutan challenging the State’s ‘invisible’ and ‘unwritten’ legacy might seem to end in a distant geographical arc with this resettlement process. However, the important question would be, whether this would quench their quest for a stable and undisputed identity or not? Or will it remain as Trishanku’s heaven?

Notes and References

1 Interviews with refugee youth in Beldangi I, II, III and Goldhap, April-May 2001. Follow up interviews from 2009 till the present. See also, Sreeja C T, Ethnicity in South Asia: A Study of the Nepali-Bhutanese Refugees, Unpublished Doctoral Thesis submitted to the University of Hyderabad, India, 2006.
2 The Core Working Group was formed in 2005. It consisted of Australia, Canada, Denmark, Netherlands, Norway and U.S.A. The European Commission was an observer. The aim, was to ensure that Bhutan and Nepal work together towards a comprehensive solution to the refugee problem.
3 Interviews with Balaram Poudel, R K Dorji, 23 July 2011, Kathmandu. Interview with Tek Nath Rizal, 25 July 2011, Kathmandu and Dr. Bhampa Rai, 6 August 2011, Damak. Interview with a cross-section of refugees from the Camps of Beldangi-I,II, nd III, Timai, Sanischare, and refugees from the Goldhap The camp was relocated into Beldangi in July-August, 2011 Nepal.
4 In the wake of 9/11, the US and the western countries were reluctant to accept refugees from the Middle East. In order to fulfill their refugee quotas, these countries focused on the largely Hindu, Buddhist (and increasingly Christian) Bhutanese refugees. See also, Susan Banki’s analysis, Resettlement of the Bhutanese from Nepal: The Durable Solution Discourse, in Howard Adelman, ed., Protracted Displacement in Asia: No Place to Call Home [Hampshire, England: Ashgate Publishing, 2008], p.49. Apart from that this is based on interviews with Bhutanese Refugees since 2006, Nepalese journalists from July to August 2011 and refugee leaders on July 2011 in Kathmandu.
5 From the standpoint of the refugees, the less-than-straightforward process of advocacy for re-settlement encompassed various incidents in the camps that brought the re-settlement option to the forefront, to serve the ‘vested interests’ in the refugee community, the relief agencies themselves, the governments of Bhutan and Nepal, and the Core Working Group. This is based on series of interviews with Bhutanese Refugees since 2006. Apart from that I have also interviewed Nepalese journalists (July –August 2011, Nepal), and refugee leaders in Kathmandu (July 2011). Interview with Beldangi-I, II and III refugees, July 2011. See also Susan Banki, pp.48-49. See also Shiva Dhungana, Refugee Watch.
6 UNHCR figures provided by the UNHCR Office, Kathmandu Nepal. July 2011.
8 Guglielmo Schininà, Sonali Sharma, Olga Gorbacheva, Anit Kumar Mishra, Who am I? : Assessment Of Psychosocial Needs And Suicide Risk Factors Among Bhutanese Refugees In Nepal And After Third Country Resettlement, IOM Migration Health Division Mental Health, Psychosocial Response and Intercultural Communication Section and Mission in Nepal, 201. Accessed at:
9 Ibid, p.7
10 R.K. Papdopoulos (2002) Refugees, home and trauma. In 'Therapeutic Care for Refugees.
No Place Like Home', edited by author. London: Karnac. Tavistock Clinic Series quoted in Ibid, p.5
11 For example Bhutanese refugees re-settled in Pennsylvania and North Carolina work in these factories. Bhutanese refugees also travel from Virginia to work in these factories. For example in Central VA, semi-skilled refugees (different age groups) have also been employed in wood factories, farms and seasonal jobs.
12 List of National Volunteer Agencies, known as VOLAGs and their affiliated agencies which work with the State. Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugee and Migration’s, Reception and Placement Program, are given here:

Friday, September 30, 2011

Reflections on Protection Strategies- South Asia and Beyond

Sahana Basavapatna and Ishita Dey
[Sahana Basavapatna is a lawyer, practicing in the Delhi High Court in the areas of intellectual property law and has been associated with the Calcutta Research Group for the last 3 years
Ishita Dey is a research Scholar of Department of Sociology, University of Delhi and Member, Calcutta Research Group]

This edition of Refugee Watch Online includes articles and contributions that indicate that the meta-narrative of migration can be written and re-written, especially in the South Asian context. These contributions, contrasting and located in its specificities indicate the various ways in which the “migrant” has been conceptualized and how these compartmentalizations affect the socio-juridical discourses in each specific context.

The various regimes of protection of migrant populations and/or refugees is central in understanding the way state and non-state actors have responded to situations of forced migration. On the one hand, the age old debate of whether or not the ratification of 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees will help resolve the arbitrariness of the state responses towards refugee crisis and on the other, the need for national legislations to ensure state responsibility towards migrant populations, are some of the key ways of looking at the protection and care of people in situations of forced migration. If this is the yardstick, then clearly the Australia-Malaysia Refugee Swap arrangement, concluded by the Australian and Malaysian governments – as this joint edition, among others, focuses on - is a clear indicator that ratification of the most important instrument of refugee protection is not a guarantee of protection.

On the other, the decision of the trial court in Delhi to turn down the Government of India's plea to deport a Tamil refugee who has been in India for the past twenty years reveals that the arbitrary nature of the host states towards refugee communities prevail and India is no exception. Thus, the conflation of a refugee/migrant in legal discourse becomes obvious when “refugee/s” issue/s in court of law have to be resolved through the Foreigner’s Act, 1946. Thus the case of the Sri Lankan refugee who the Government of India sought to deport on the ground that he did not carry valid travel documents is not uncommon, but the trial court's decision to disagree with the submissions of the Government in holding that a refugee should be protected precisely because he cannot be sent back to his native country where he is likely to face persecution is. Additionally, a significant point that the court has raised in its decision is the need to distinguish between a migrant and a refugee and the lack of any legal avenue for the refugees as the Refugees Asylum Seekers,(Protection) Bill 2006 is yet to see the light of the day.

In the section on News, we provide a brief summary of the court proceedings as reported by J. Venkatesan in an article titled “Magistrate: How Can court become party to persecution of refugee?”, The Hindu, dated 21 September 2011 followed by another news on the recent decision by the Indonesian government to regulate the migration of domestic workers to Saudi Arabia. This came in the heels of the beheading of a domestic worker of Indonesian nationality after the latter was convicted of murdering her employer because she was not allowed to return to her native land. Lastly, in the section on news is a report in the Guardian titled More than 30 million climate migrants in Asia in 2010, report finds by Fiona Harvey, its environment correspondent. According to the Asian Development Bank, as this Guardian article reports, more than 30 million people were said to have been displaced by environment and weather related disasters across Asia in 2010 and this is predicted to get worse in the years to come. This last article is yet another example of how the neat categories of displacement we are conversant with, need to be rethought and reframed.

In the section on Views, RWO brings an article by Savitri Taylor, on the Australia-Malaysia refugee swap arrangement. In recent times, several reports of refugees from Srilanka, Bangladesh and other countries in South and South East Asia taking to the high seas for passage to Australia and other European nations have been reported. These also included reports of the arbitrary manner in which the Australian Government responded to refugees who had taken to the high seas. It is a well known fact that Canary Islands, Malta and Christmas Islands continue to remain the transit points for the “boat people” who are often mixed. For instance they could be economic migrants, refugees, asylum seekers and trafficked victims as well.

In this background, it is worth recalling that the member states of the United Nations are expected to abide by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, 1982 and the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol, particularly the principle of non-refoulement and the right to seek asylum. Additionally, the 1974 International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea and the 1979 International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue also have to be taken into account by member states.

In its attempt to secure its maritime borders, the Australian Government entered into a swap deal with Malaysia on 25 July 2011, which has attracted severe criticism. Despite being a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, Australia has been facing severe criticism for the recent “interceptions” and controversies relating to the arbitrariness of asylum procedures. The main aim of the policy, in the words of the Prime Minister of Australia, Ms. Julia Gilliard, and reported in the news piece, “Australia firm on Refugee Swap deal” is ostensibly to “smash people smugglers’ business model…”, She continues by adding that, “…our aim is not to see people put themselves in boats and be at the risk of losing lives”. According to an article published in the Bangkok Post, “Australia plans to send up to 800 asylum seekers to Malaysia in return for accepting 4,000 registered refugees from that country over four years under a deal designed to stop boatpeople from landing in Australia”. Incidentally Malaysia is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention.

Following this deal, on 31 August 2011, the High Court of Australia held invalid and unconstitutional the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship's declaration of Malaysia as a country to which asylum seekers who entered Australia at Christmas Island can be taken for processing of their asylum claims and also decided that any unaccompanied asylum seeker under 18 years of age cannot be taken from Australia without a written consent under the Immigration (Guardianship of Children) Act, 1946. Subsequently, the High Court of Australia prevented the government from sending the first batch of asylum seekers. Though the present Government is adamant on resolving the plight of boat people through an amendment to the Migration Act, 1958 to go ahead with the transfers, they are yet to receive the opposition’s support to the amendments. In a joint media release, issued on 12 September 2011, the Minister of Immigration and Citizenship, Chris Bowen and Prime Minister Julia Gillard have stated that amendments relating to third country provisions in the Migration Act, 1958 will ensure smooth transfers under the arrangement with Malaysia and Memorandum of Understanding with Papua New Guinea

Dr. Savitri Taylor’s article in the section on views brings to the forefront the legal and human rights dimension of the Refugee Swap deal but as the recent statement noted above shows, we will need to wait and watch if at all the Australian Government manages succeed with the amendments.

We have three contributions in the section on Reports including a review of the Women's Refugee Commission's Report published in July 2011, following a fortnight long study of the livelihood issues and survival strategies of refugees living in Delhi, a photo-essay by a young photo-journalist, Rohit Jain, who has spent time with the Burmese refugees in West Delhi in order to understand the living conditions of the community and an in-depth report by Javed Khan on one of the flaming fields of battle within India and the rising IDPs in Khamman district of Andhra Pradesh.

To conclude, we have flagged issues concerning the mixed nature of migration through seemingly unrelated and apparently contrasting situations of migration/forced migration. In doing so, the aim is to identify and highlight the complexities inherent in freezing identities, providing convenient (legal) labels and in the ambivalent way of addressing forced migration in absence of a coherent framework that would make sense of the reality of migration in its various forms in South Asia.


“Australia firm on Malaysia Refugee Deal” in; Accessed on 11 September 2011
“Australia’s Malaysia Refugee Swap under Fire” in; Accessed on 15 September 2011; Accessed on 21 September 2011

The trial court in Dwarka, NCT of Delhi, in a recent verdict relating a Sri Lankan refugee, has stated that the court cannot be party to the persecution of a refugee. J. Venkatesan in an article in The Hindu reported the legal proceedings of the Magistrate’s Court which make for interesting and relevant observations. The Magistrate, while holding in favour of the accused refugee has also noted that there is a need to distinguish and address the needs of a migrant and a refugee in the legal discourse through two separate laws. In this context he pointed out that the absence of a legal framework to address the specific needs of a refugee in India despite several deliberations on a Model National Law: The Refugee and Asylum Seekers (Protection) Bill, 2006 is. Under the given circumstances refugee protection has to be met within the framework that is available under Foreigner's Act, 1946. In the reported case, Mr Chandra Kumar (a resident since 1990, in the refugee camp Tiruvallur in Tamil Nadu) was accused of non-possession of travel documents by the Indian immigration authorities. He was then charged with cheating, impersonation and forgery and other offences under of the Foreigners Act, 1946. “He moved an application for plea bargaining. An order on sentence ought to have been passed forthwith. However, the Additional Public Prosecutor, on instructions from the government, contended that an order of deportation should form part of the order on sentence”. Responding to these, the court rejected the plea for deportation on the grounds that it goes against the premise of natural justice that should be available to citizens and non-citizens.

For details visit; (accessed on 23 September 2011)

Protection of Domestic Workers in Saudi Arabia- Distant Dream by Shamim

After Saudi Arabia beheaded a 54-year old Indonesian grandmother in June for stabbing her Saudi employer to death, Indonesia declared a moratorium on the migration of its nationals for domestic employment in the desert kingdom, effective August 1.

Although the two countries were to adopt a bilateral agreement for protection of Indonesian domestic workers in Saudi Arabia this year, no such document has been signed.

Ruyati Binti Satubi, a household worker from West Java was executed for murder after she confessed slaying the man who had contracted her. The Indonesian migrant, who has three children, said she killed her employer because she was denied permission to return to her native land.

Media in Indonesia and elsewhere indicated that Ruyati Binti Satubi had been subjected to other forms of abuse while working in the Saudi home, located in Mecca, Islam's holiest city. Neither the Indonesian authorities nor her family was informed of the death sentence until after it was carried out, an action for which the Saudi regime apologized to Jakarta. Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono wrote in protest to Saudi King Abdullah after the execution, and the Indonesian authorities followed up with the moratorium on exporting labourers, enforced visibly at airports and through contracting agencies.

The beheading of Ruyati Binti Satubi was only the most recent in a series of shocking cases involving Indonesian domestic workers in Saudi Arabia.

In April, Saudi authorities overturned a three-year prison sentence against a 53-year old Saudi woman in Medina, for "torture" in the beating and burning of her 23-year old maid, Sumiati Binti Salan Mustapa.

That incident, like the execution of Ruyati Binti Satubi, caused widespread protest in Indonesia, as well as increased reluctance to undergo the risks of working in Saudi Arabia, which Indonesian workers described as "horror stories." Indonesian media report that the flow of migrant workers to the kingdom had already decreased by 30 percent in the first quarter of this year.

With imposition of the August labour embargo, Indonesia was expected to lose $350 million worth of income. Some 20 Indonesians, mainly women, are said to face capital punishment in Saudi Arabia. Indonesian officials say that 370,000 of their citizens went to work in Saudi Arabia in 2010. Of these, more than 90 percent are employed in the so-called "informal sector," that is, paid in cash, without record-keeping or government oversight. The British media states, however, that 1.5 million Indonesians are working in Saudi Arabia.

Complaints of physical abuse and murder of Indonesian domestic servants by Saudis have produced hundreds of cases, but like other emigrant labourers in Saudi Arabia, Indonesians have no rights.
Indonesia had imposed new regulations on the employment of emigrants to Saudi Arabia, under which the Saudi employee would be required to earn at least $2,800 per month, and the number of family members and layout of the residence would be registered.

Because of the rigid oversight of relations between family and non-family members as dictated by Wahhabism, the Saudi state form of Islam, the kingdom has one of the highest proportions of immigrant laborers in the world; they currently account for 5.5 million out of 26 million people, or 20 percent. Foreign observers describe the Saudi demand for foreign housemaids, drivers, and similar employees as inexhaustible. Saudi subjects are discouraged from such work.

Millions of Pakistanis, Afghans, Indians, Bangladeshis, Indonesians, Filipinos, South Koreans, and Sri Lankans receive low wages, when not subjected to outright slavery and extreme abuse while toiling for Saudi masters. Domestic and other low-skill workers live apart from the Anglo-American, other European, and similar foreign technicians, who serve the petrochemical and other advanced industries, and who reside in segregated, protected communities that seek to reproduce the conditions in their advanced countries of origin.

While no religion other than Islam is permitted in public observance in Saudi Arabia, foreign petrochemical and defence professionals are allowed to hold Christian and other services within their homes. But Christians, Buddhists, and Hindus from the Philippines, South Korea, and Sri Lanka are prohibited from practicing their faiths; even Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Indonesian Muslims, who work in Saudi Arabia face religious discrimination. For example, preaching in South and Southeast Asian mosques and similar activities are forbidden, as are Sufi observances, popular in Pakistan and Indonesia alike. No other Muslim state imposes such restrictions. Nevertheless, many Muslims are lured to work in the kingdom because of its religious prestige.

With 86 percent of its population of 245 million counted as Muslims, Indonesia has the largest Islamic population of any country in the world. Indonesian domestic workers earn about $200 per month in Saudi Arabia, a wage superior to those an Indonesian migrant villager with a primary-school education would be paid in the east Asian industrialized nations, such as Japan or Taiwan.

At the beginning of August, the official Saudi Arab News announced that two Indonesian women sentenced to beheading would be reprieved and repatriated. Identified only by their first names, Emi was convicted of killing her employer's child, and Nesi of using "black magic" against her employer. Executions for the alleged "witchcraft" are common in the kingdom, which has experienced recurrent panic over "sorcery."

Climate Induced Migration is Expected to Increase in Asia

In an article titled “More than 30 million climate migrants in Asia in 2010” Fiona Harvey reports, based on information and analysis by the Asian Development Bank that while climate change resulted in creating 30 million migrants in 2010 in Asia, the problem will only get worse in the years to come. A conference held in Manila, Philippines, on 13 September 2011 on Climate induced migration has concluded that climate change will be one of major reasons for migration across Asia in the years to come; “socio-economic transformations” and “a high degree of exposure to environmental risks” are some of the key reasons for making Asia and the Pacific vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

Asia, including South Asia is not new to migration that can be linked to phenomenon such as droughts, or flooding. The story of migration of Bangladeshi's across the border into India is one of deprivation coupled with declining agricultural productivity, and drought. What would be pertinent, from a migration point of view, is the way states in Asia understand and address migration. Among the possible policy recommendations that the ADB is expected to make, as is clear from the Philippines conference are to include “measures to improve vital infrastructure, such as energy provision, transport systems and communication networks, in order to make such infrastructure more resilient to the effects of climate change.” (Background note to the Conference is available at

From the perspective of countries that naturally allow for easy migration but the political systems that does not encourage the same, it would be pertinent to note that climate change induced migration provides another important vantage point from which to undo the received wisdom of what is acceptable migration and who are acceptable migrants.

The news article can be accessed at (accessed 16 September 2011) and information about the Conference held at Manila, Philippines at (accessed on 20 September 2011)

The Demise of the Malaysian Solution

Savitri Taylor
[Associate Professor in the School of Law at La Trobe University]

(This article has been reproduced from La Trobe University News, posted 7 September 2011,

On 25 July 2011, Australia and Malaysia entered into a legally non-binding Arrangement, which provided for the transfer to Malaysia of up to 800 people arriving irregularly in Australia by boat after the date of signing. The Gillard government attempted to implement this arrangement by using the legal machinery which the Howard government had inserted into the Migration Act to enable execution of the Pacific Strategy. The High Court of Australia has just ruled by a six to one majority that the legal machinery does not work in the way that the Gillard government (and the Howard government before it) thought it did.

Section 198A(3) of the Migration Act gives the Minister for Immigration the power to declare in writing that a specified country provides asylum seekers with access “to effective procedures for assessing their need for protection” and protection pending determination of their refugee status; that it provides protection to refugees pending their voluntary repatriation or resettlement; and that it “meets relevant human rights standards in providing that protection.” Section 198A(1) provides that the class of persons into which most unauthorized boat arrivals fall may be taken to such a declared country. On 25 July 2011, Minister Bowen made a declaration in respect of Malaysia just as Minister Ruddock before him had made declarations in respect of Nauru and PNG. The government’s understanding of the law was that what the Minister declares does not have to be true as long as the Minister believes it to be true. The High Court found to the contrary. Moreover, according to the majority, what has to be true, at a minimum, in order for a section 198A(3) declaration to be valid is that the country in respect of which the declaration is made is bound under international law or its own national law to provide the protections specified to asylum seekers and refugees. The government conceded (as it had to) that Malaysia did not meet this minimum. It followed that the 25 July 2011 declaration was invalid.

Short of a change to Malaysian law, which the Gillard government has said it will not seek, or to Australian law, which the Gillard government is impotent to achieve on its own, the Malaysian arrangement no longer offers a solution to its border control problem. So what happens now? The government might choose to test whether the existing declaration or a new one in respect of PNG would stand up to High Court scrutiny. The outcome is by no means certain, because in the case just decided the High Court left open the answers to some key questions bearing on the matter. If the government were prepared to accept the political humiliation of a return to Nauru in order to avoid the greater political damage of continuing boat arrivals, it could perhaps convince the opposition to support passage of legislation which would put beyond doubt the domestic legal validity of transfers to that country. Depending on the moral depths to which the government is prepared to sink in its fight for political survival, the deterrence options available to it are many and varied. If implemented, they may even result in a significant reduction of boat arrivals in Australia at least until the next election. But here is what they will not do. They will not resolve the underlying problem, which is human insecurity in the countries which asylum seekers flee from and in most of the countries they flee through.

Between 2007 and 2009, Professor Sandra Gifford and I led a research project which involved, among other things, interviewing asylum seekers and refugees living in Indonesia. Indonesia is the last country of departure of most arriving here by boat. What we discovered was this. Asylum seekers and refugees do not necessarily want to make Australia their home. They just want to have a home: a place where they can live in safety, support themselves with dignity, give their children a future through education, and belong. If these basic human needs could be fulfilled in Indonesia, they would have been happy to remain there. If they knew that they had a realistic prospect of obtaining a resettlement place in another country which would fulfill these needs, the assurance of future security would have been enough to enable them to bear present insecurity. Unfortunately, neither a home in its true meaning nor the hope of one in the future is to be found in Indonesia or most other countries in our region. Australia acting alone cannot turn this situation around. Regional cooperation is needed.

In his press conference on 31 August, 2011, the Minister said he was proud of the regional cooperation framework that the government had achieved at the Bali Process Ministerial Conference in March this year. And so he should be. The regional cooperation framework was a first step towards the possibility of improved refugee protection throughout our region. The Malaysia deal, though purportedly a practical implementation of that framework, had at the heart of it a backward step which has now been undone. However, there is another element of the Arrangement which is protection enhancing and can still be implemented. That element is the promise made by Australia to resettle over 4,000 of the over 80,000 UNHCR recognized refugees living in Malaysia at the time of signing. These 4,000 resettlement places were to be made available over four years and to be additional to Australia’s regular humanitarian resettlement program. If the government follows through on this promise, it may be able to convince its regional neighbours that when it talks about regional cooperation it does not just mean that the rest of the region should cooperate to help Australia avoid its own protection obligations. Disappointingly, it appears that the government might now decide to provide the 4,000 resettlement places promised to Malaysia within the regular resettlement program. In other words, it might rob Peter to pay Paul. This would, of course, enable the government counter the opposition charge that the Malaysian solution is not just a policy failure, but a very expensive one. However, it would also reveal to the region that Australia’s protection talk is no more than talk and, if that happens, the regional cooperation framework of which the government is so proud will never become more than words on paper.

The Implementation of Urban Refugee Policy in Delhi

Sahana Basavapatna

“Operationalizing UNHCR’s policy document, however, requires a broader, more in-depth understanding of the issues and challenges facing urban refugees. This report attempts to contribute to the development of that knowledge.” page 5.

The Women's Refugee Commission, in collaboration with UNHCR published a report titled, Bright Lights, Big City: Refugees Struggle to Make a Living in Delhi in July 2011 with the objective of contributing to the way in which the Urban Refugee Policy of UNHCR may be implemented in its letter and spirit.

This short note, is at once a review and an introduction to the report, which, in restating some of the conclusions made before in the context of refugees in Delhi, nevertheless makes a worthy attempt in comprehending the Urban Refugee Policy and its implications for Delhi.

The study, conducted over a fortnight in March 2011, focuses on the economic coping strategies of refugees, the protection risks associated with the coping strategies and potential market opportunities that may be exploited, given Delhi's unqiue context.

A number of conclusions in the Report are familiar and may be said to be a restatement and reiteration of existing knowledge. The report talks about refugees in the social and economic context of Delhi, including the hostility of the local communities, or the competition for jobs in the informal sector. It also does a comparison of the financial needs of refugees and the livelihood options currently before them. The report published by The Other Media, an organization that has had a long association with Burmese refugees, published a report in 2010, titled “Battling to Survive: A Study of Burmese Asylum Seekers and Refugees in Delhi” also touches upon these aspects, although the focus on the Urban Refugee Policy is not prominent in the latter.

One of the highlights of the Report is the articulation of UNHCR'S policy towards refugees in Delhi, althought not very clearly. The report states, “ UNHCR is piloting new approaches to working with urban refugees in New Delhi that demonstrate a progressive, rational way of addressing the growing urban population. These approaches include both broad coverage for access to basic services and attempts to address the specific needs of the most vulnerable”. The Report goes on to suggest to UNHCR that “...These efforts should be ratcheted up to the next level focusing on continuing to reduce the number of refugees receiving subsistence allowance by expanding employment opportunities and channeling available resources to job placement and job creation programs as referenced in the recommendations below.”

The Urban Refugee Policy is an important instrument, although it has taken more than a decade for UNHCR to arrive at the terms on which it would approach the issues facing refugees in urban areas. While the Report provides some window to the current policy of UNHCR in India (for instance, the provision of subsistence allowance to refugees being targeted towards on the most needy, the expansion of health care and other services to even those that are not recognized by UNHCR as refugees, the emphasis on government services for education and health care and discouraging private services etc), the implementation of the policy would require on one hand that refugees utilize the Urban Refugee policy to push for better protection and for UNHCR to realize that not all of its policy formulations would work adequately in the current context. Although India appears to provide a rich base of legal mechanisms and institutions on which refugee rights may be built, the actual implementation is full of hurdles, as the Report clearly points out. For instance, the Report talks about UNHCR's policy of encouraging refugees to access government schools and refers to the Right to Children of Compulsory Education Act, 2009, under which it is mandatory for the state to provide compulsory education for every child between 6-14 years; however, the experience of children with government schools, has not been as positive as UNHCR or its implementing partners would want refugees to believe.

To conclude, this Report is a useful addition to the existing knowledge of the status of refugees in Delhi. However, both the refugees as well as the implementors of the Policy would have to strive to make the policy work for them.

The Report can be accessed at"&HYPERLINK"ascdesc=DESC
last accessed September 21, 2011)

Javid Iqbal Documents the Conditions of IDP Settlements in Andhra Pradesh and Chattisgarh

Javid Iqbal
[Has worked as an investigative reporter for The New Indian Express from November 2009 to April 2011. We thank him for allowing us to re-publish excerpts from his articles. His articles and photo essays can be accessed on]

Flaming Forests of Warrangal, IDP Settlements

Javid Iqbal in his article “The Migrating forests of Warrangal” highlights the the conditions of the IDPs who constantly face the threat of losing their make shift home and livelihood. Reports regarding the IDP population on the borders of Andhra Pradesh and Chattisgarh have always varied. While some activists report that around 50,000 people have been affected by this conflict; people undertaking survey would argue 213 settlements in Khammam district itself have been affected. While the reports of floating populations is true Javid Iqbal also draws our attention to the fact that the fear and threat from Salwa Judum and the Maoists is not the only reason of forced movement of population; but also lack of land, as many Murias had small holdings of land in their villages in Dantewada or Bijapur. The control over resources, particularly rights of communities over forests has become a contentious issue. While land is being used for industrial purposes in Chattisgarh, mining is rampant in Khammam, and finally, over 276 villages in Khammam, East and West Godavari districts, would be submerged due to Polavaram dam along with over 10,000 acres of reserve forest land. These concerns has its far reaching implications and as Javid Iqbal in his photo essays and articles ( links given below) on the IDP situation in Andhra Pradesh and Chattishgarh shows that the rising number of floating population has also led to starvation deaths due to drought in the region. While the Government continues to see this geographical region as the site of internal conflict people are forced to flee homes. It is time that the state should take a note at the larger issue/s over access and control over community resources in these regions instead of guising problems under the umbrella of internal conflict.
For details see
Iqbal, J. 2011. The Migrating Forests of Warangal”.

IDP children refused treatment by Nutrition and Rehabilitation Center in Badrachalam, Khammam District in Andhra Pradesh

Javid Iqbal in his article “Internally Displaced Hunger” reports of an incident in 2010 when 8 malnurioushed children were refused treatment by the Nutrition and Rehabilitation Center in Badrachalam, Khammam District in Andhra Pradesh. All eight were children of Internally Displaced Persons from Dantewada/Bijapur District of Chhattisgarh. Apparently the parents of the children failed to provide documentation that were from Tribal and BPL families. As Javed (2010) emphasises, “The Internally displaced persons from Chhattisgarh are in perpetual limbo. They’re occasionally pitted against the local adivasi tribes of Andhra Pradesh over minimal resources and no state government whether Andhra Pradesh, nor Chhattisgarh is willing to take responsibility for them. At the same time, no civil government department is capable of undermining the arm-twisting policies of the Andhra Pradesh Forest Department that wishes to send them back to Chhattisgarh, who would probably dump them in mismanaged Salwa Judum camps”.
For details see
Iqbal, J. 2010. “Internally displaced Hunger”

I Miss my Motherland

This photo essay is work of Rohit Jain
[He is a freelancer photographer based in New Delhi. He has done photo essays on the plight of Burmese and Somali refugees living in New Delhi and a photo essay on advises of Central India.]

“With the slightest promise of good governance and protection, the natural pull to return home is overwhelming within us” says a refugee. The decade long repressive military government in Burma (Myanmar) forced millions of Burmese people to take shelter in other countries. In the west of Burma, border to India, Burmese people come to Indian border. They move to New Delhi to seek refugee status from UNHCR. Hapless, they find shelter in stingy by-lanes of New Delhi too far away from their open house and self sustaining lives in Burma. Refugees lives on margins of society. They do not have the right to work as a refugee, and survive on limited resources. Still their hope for their rights and peace in Burma is alive.

Refugees are on a demonstration in New Delhi, against a dehumanized and repressive military dominant government in Burma.

Refugees are on demonstration in New Delhi, against a dehumanized and repressive military dominant government in Burma

A Rohingya refugee from Arakan state of Burma, outside UNHCR office in New Delhi. Rohingya refugees live in New Delhi, Jaipur, Muzzafarnagar. A majority, it is reported, live in the State of Jammu and Kashmir. They have to come time and again to UNHCR, New Delhi, to seek refugee status. Most of them are given 5 months time for result of interview. But they don't get any result after the passing of given period.

A placard at the gate of UNHCR office. Rohingya refugees from Arakan state of Burma, appeal to UNHCR in New Delhi to accept them as registered refugee and give them protection under UNHCR. Some of the refugees are seeking refugee status from UNHCR for last 2-3 years, but without success.

A child living in Delhi collecting leftover and rotten vegetables at 12:00 am midnight in the vegetable market at the time of closing. Refugees have no right to work and few options by way of jobs. Employment in the unorganized sector adds troubles to their survival.

A child living in Delhi collecting leftover and rotten vegetables at 12:00 am midnight in the vegetable market at the time of closing. Refugees have no right to work and few options by way of jobs. Employment in the unorganized sector adds troubles to their survival.

Lily, 29, runs a temporary betel nut stall during the annual Burmese sports festival. “Many refugees prefer to earn some money like this rather than do a permanent work in local factories where they face exploitation. Often the employer entices them with extra pay to come for night duty but they face sexual exploitation.

"In Burma we used to have our own big and airy homes in the hills and mountains with mild and chilly weather and self sustained life, and here we live in dingy, confined rooms, paltry wages in spite of working overtime in factories – is the new norm of life for us" said Thui Lawn, a refugee living in New Delhi.

Lack of resources, no education, and orphaned; teenagers’ future is falling in a dark spell. It may force them into alcoholism or drug addiction. Probably, they have become a victim of circumstances.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

July 2011
(This edition has been compiled by Anuradha Gunarathne)

Ishita Dey

In the July edition of Refugee Watch Online we have tried to flag issues and concerns of the reconciliation and peace-building efforts in Sri Lanka. Studies have shown that in situations of protracted displacement, the vulnerable population (ie, women, children and youth) are the worst affected. Members of youth, in particular are not only participants of conflict by taking up arms for state or non-state but also victims of war. Their situation is much more complex, and the effects of witnessing war in the growing up years have psychological implications as well.

In other words, during peace-building efforts special attention should be given to address the members of the youth as the case study in Allaipiddy Village of Jaffna Peninsula shows. Allaipiddy in Velani DS Division in Jaffna is situated in the High Security Zone spreading across 144 Considering its strategic location, villagers suffered multiple displacements which affected their livelihoods and also their children’s education. Now most of the younger members are unable to apply for jobs because they have not been able to complete their education. In this article, “Youth: Participants and Victims of War” Chulanee Attanayake brings to the forefront the issues and concerns of youth that need to be addressed in the peace-building efforts. While there have been various studies on the reconciliation efforts in SriLanka; Anuradha Gunarathne and Azmiya Badurdeen in the article “Internally Displaced Persons in the Process of Reconciliation: Implications for Durable Solutions” flags off the issues concerning internally displaced people. One of the important and pressing issues is how do you renew trust among returnees?

In the section on Reports we present to you one of the background papers commissioned for the EFA Global Monitoring Report 2011, “The hidden crisis: Armed conflict and education”. J.R.A Williams(2010) in this extensive report on “The impact of conflict and displacement (2006-2010) in SriLanka” shows the various methods introduced during conflict and post conflict to improve educational standards. What is significant and commendable is the way in which this report includes both the state and non-state initiatives. For instance in camps, “donors funded learning and child-friendly spaces, and teachers were recruited from the inmates, but facilities were never adequate to provide for the numbers of displaced children, and there was no access for teacher training or monitoring”. Even during war times ceasefire was respected during “national exams”. Temporary learning spaces (TLS) with the help of humanitarian agencies have been successful in maintaining displaced families commitment to education. Even when people were on the move tractors with school material accompanied them. Post war, agencies like UNICEF, Plan International and Save the Children have been developing educational materials for catch up education programmes to reintegrate the war affected children with the mainstream education. Catch up programmes are common in North and East SriLanka and have been successful so far. Another initiative taken by UNICEF has been Child Friendly School (CFS) approaches. According to this report, “the critical need is for attention and resources to return to the development priorities, such as child-friendly schooling, vocational education, and national Early Childhood Education and Development (ECED) standards, which were overwhelmed by the emergency response”.

We have tried to bring to the forefront some of the issues that need special attention in the reconstruction efforts in SriLanka. We welcome your comments and suggestions on the same.

We also invite you to contribute articles for the upcoming editions of Refugeewatchonline

News: Brief Summaries (within 200 words) of news items concerning forced migration.
Views: Any original piece of article within 1500 words on refugees, IDPs in South Asia.
Reports: Reports of any study on forced migration (refuges and IDPs), conferences or any other. Review articles on reports, books are also welcome. (Word limit: 1000)
Please email your entries and queries to

Short Course on Refugee Law

Location: Bangkok, Thailand
Start Date: 2011-09-12
End Date: 2011-09-16
The Centre for Applied Human Rights (University of York, UK) is offering a 5 day short-course on International Refugee Law and Advocacy in Bangkok in September 2011. The course is offered in partnership with the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network, a growing network of over 116 civil society groups and individuals committed to advancing the rights of refugees in the Asia Pacific Region.

The short course will cover the topics of Understanding the legal and policy framework of the international refugee protection regime, Developing national NGO networks for advocacy, Conducting regional and transnational impact litigation of refugee rights, Implementing refugee rights in domestic law, Engaging elected officials and the development of national legislative caucuses, Using national human rights institutions (NHRIs) to monitor and protect the rights of refugees and Using UNHCR processes to protect the rights of refugees.

For further details

Poor Countries Host 80 per cent of World’s Refugees, UN Report Shows

An estimated 80 per cent of the world’s refugees now live in developing countries and yet anti-refugee sentiment is growing in many industrialized nations, the United Nations said in a report unveiled on 20th June 2011, urging the richer States to address the deep imbalance.

In relation to the size of their economies, poor countries shoulder a disproportionate refugee burden, according to the 2010 Global Trends report of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), released on World Refugee Day.

Pakistan, Iran, and Syria have the largest refugee populations at 1.9 million, 1.07 million, and 1.005 million respectively.

According to the statement of Antonio Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees fears about supposed floods of refugees in industrialized countries are being vastly overblown or mistakenly conflated with issues of migration. Meanwhile it’s poorer countries that are left having to pick up the burden.

For further details;

Longer- Term Disaster Displaced: A Forgotten Group – Nepal

Almost all districts across the Far West face losses of lives and property every year due to natural disasters in Nepal. However, the impact can last well beyond the immediate event. Humanitarian actors have observed that the duration of displacement varies depending on the intensity and type of disaster: displacement following inundation of rivers is generally short term, while displacement resulting from floods and erosion is generally longer term.

Kailali and Kanchanpur were severely affected by floods in 2008 and 2009 that caused life and property losses as well as displacement in both districts. Determining the exact number of displaced in Kailali and the duration of their displacement is difficult however, as the District Administration Office (DAO) has no concrete figures. The Kailali Red Cross Society (NRCS) estimates that some 950 families are displaced among four different settlements. The Kanchanpur DAO reports there are 308 displaced families currently sheltering in four locations.

Potentially hundreds of families remain displaced and vulnerable years after natural disasters struck them. District authorities have yet to grasp the full extent of the needs; only Kanchanpur district has made concrete progress to systematically assess and record the number and location of disaster displaced. No districts have developed concrete rehabilitation strategies to date. The 2008 Government decision is yet to be implemented and there are questions about the determination and capacity of local officials to do so. In addition, the basic needs of these displaced groups become increasingly blurred with broader issues of acute poverty or landlessness shared by many communities. This complicates both needs assessment and assistance provision, and creates an atmosphere of confusion that can easily be taken advantage of.

All districts are developing Disaster Preparedness and Response Plans to reduce the risk of natural disasters and improve response across humanitarian clusters. However, these plans are focused on future disasters and do not necessarily examine the needs of those displaced previously. District Disaster Response Committees can be encouraged to and assisted in assessing the rehabilitation needs of already affected groups. Such assessments are important not only to advocate for rehabilitation support but also to draw a line between those directly impacted by disaster and other groups seeking support, thereby reducing confusion. Further advocacy is also needed to increase the resources available for rehabilitation assistance generally. While real progress is being made in disaster prevention, the need to assist those already impacted cannot be forgotten.

For full report:

Youths; Participants and Victims of War

Chulanee Attanayake
[Programme Officer, National Protection and Durable Solutions for Internally Displaced Persons Project, HRCSL]

In this article I examine the impact of conflict on youth in Allaipiddy, a return village in Jaffna. Considering a significant section of Srilanka’s population has grown up witnessing war and conflict, it is important to look into the problems younger generation has faced as victims and participants of war and the ways in which their grievances could be incorporated in peace building efforts.

Background: Allaippiddy

Allaipiddy in Velani DS Division in Jaffna is situated in the High Security Zone(HSZ) spreading across 144 The villagers of Allaipiddy were the first victims of displacement in 1990. Many of the villagers are fishermen from coastal areas such as Kankesanthurai, Keerimalai while others are interior farmers of Tellipalai. The Sri Lankan security forces moved into Allaipiddy in 1990 in order to establish a camp to facilitate troop movement and supply lines to the Jaffna Fort, which was at that time under the control of the Sri Lanka government. The villagers were forced to vacate the village. By the time of displacement, there had been more than 400 families with approximately 1400 persons. It is reported that 22 people have disappeared during the cause of military campaign.

Allaipiddy remained a contentious spot because of its strategic location. As long as the LTTE retained its base at Pooneryan, the navy needed Allaipiddy to control LTTE sea movements between its base and the government facilities at Kankensanthurai. Secondly the place also served as a supply line for troops in Jaffna.

After Sri Lankan Army established its rule in Jaffna district on 12th April 1996, the displaced community in the district was resettled, yet, villagers of Allaipiddy were prevented to go back to their residences as it was situated in the HSZ. After 2002 following the Ceasefire Agreement between the Government and LTTE; they were resettled.

On 19th May 2006, Allaipiddy villagers faced the Second major displacement following a series of security threats, including the murder of 13 Tamil civilians. They were forced and threatened to leave the village immediately. The posters threatening their lives have been supposedly distributed by a group called “Makkal Padai” (People’s Force), which was doubted to be affiliated with LTTE. By the time of this Second Displacement, there had been 450 families and 250 houses constructed by the World Bank Housing Development Project.

However, majority of the villagers returned to Allaipiddy during the period of 20th May 2006 and 11th August 2006 until they were warned to vacate the area immediately. On 11th August 2006, Voice of Tigers; the official radio station of LTTE, issued an announcement warning the residents of Gurunagar, Passaiyoor, St. Rocks and Columbuthurai of imminent attacks and telling them to vacate the area. With the fear of been caught amidst hostilities between Sri Lanka Army and LTTE, villagers who returned from previous displacement left.

Under the Government’s resettlement programmes, 182 families returned in 2008 and another 160 families returned in June 2009. Currently, there are 350 families in the village.

There are different stories about the incident which caused the displacement in May 2006. 13 Tamil civilians were killed including two women and two children. Whilst the Government accused LTTE for the massacre, many reports have mentioned that the massacre was done by “personnel in civilians alleged to be from the Sri Lanka Navy and carders from Ealam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP).

Youth: Participants and Victims

Participation of youth in conflict situations is critical to understand the impact of conflict as they play a dominant role either as a rebel or as a victim. The participation of youth in conflict is inevitable when they are increasing in numbers and the opportunities for education and employment are limited.

SriLanka has been witness to youth involvement in conflicts throughout the recent history. The two armed youth insurrections in the South led by Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna in 1971 and 1988-89, and violence in North and East which lasted for nearly three decades stand as the best evidence for youth involvement in the rebellious movements in the country.

As per available evidences it is said that, in the Sinhalese segment of the population, active participants in each of the insurgencies of 1971 and 1986-89 never exceeded 20,000 young men and women. Whereas participation of Tamil youth in LTTE insurrection in the North and East was about 3000 youths by the time of the arrival of Indian Peace-Keeping Army in 1987, and it increased to about 10,000 at the time of their retreat from Jaffna in 1995. Considering reports of large scale recruitment occurred during the past few years, this number might have increased at the time of end of the conflict.

Youth involvement in conflicts is influenced by several factors; lack of economic opportunities, increase in grievances, deprivation of development and blocked transition to adulthood. Of all, lack of economic opportunities, deprivation of development and increase in grievances acted as driving forces of violent insurrection in North and East. Though certain conflict resolution theories highlights the fact that youth being the “drivers of conflict” it is to be noted that they are the most vulnerable victims of a conflict. They play a role as offenders or perpetrators, yet, at the same time, opportunities available for development are not accessible to them as a result of the conflict. The large proportion of combatant group is aged between 15 and 30 years, on the other hand majority of the youth population in the country has grown up only witnessing war throughout their life time.

Having taken part as combatants in the conflict, youth have become direct victims. Researchers have proved that the majority in both government military troops and LTTE carders had been between the ages of 15-30 years. Though the Government military group recruited those who are above 18 years of age, LTTE carders consisted of adolescents of 14 years of age. Their recruitment may be either voluntary or forced. Speaking of LTTE, youths were compelled to join the conflict through conscription or abduction.

Findings of the Study

The study conducted in Allaipiddy, Jaffna revealed that, whether or not the youth was directly involved in conflict, they have become direct victims of social, economic, political, psychological and cultural dimensions of conflict. Either victims or perpetrators, it is the future generation of the country who have been most victimized.

The conflict has affected education, social welfare, economic development and as a result it has aggravated unemployment. Concerning the age group of the youths interviewed in Allaipiddy, most of them have dropped out of school due to poverty. Their parents have lost means of income each time they fled home. Allaipiddy is a Fisheries Community and with the increase in hostilities, the fishermen faced restrictions on fishing by Sri Lanka Navy due to security reasons. They were forced to work as day-labourers. They largely depended on dry ration and supports from NGOs.

In most of the families, the children’s education was affected. They dropped out of school and engaged in odd jobs to support their families. There were instances where the elder brothers had to quit school to educate his younger siblings. This situation has a direct impact on today’s youth unemployment. Lack of proper education at their adolescence, lost of family property due to displacement and in certain circumstances, loss of caretakers at young age have affected their current status to find themselves jobs post conflict.

A young mother, speaking of her economic condition explained that she sometimes has to sell dry ration in order to fulfill the daily needs. There are young women who suffer due to lack of a dowry as no man is willing to take their hand without a presentable dowry. Lack of sound educational background prevents them from enjoying available employment opportunities. Though private and public sector offers employment for qualified youth, since most of them could not complete their education they lose a chance in this job sector.

Most of the male members in Allaipiddy were forced to take family responsibilities at a very young age. They could not afford to enjoy the freedom of youth. There are reports where young groups have become victims of substance abuse during (addicted to drug and alcohol).

Subsequently, female youths have sometimes been forced to early marriages and bare children. One girl who spoke to the interviewer regarding her current situation said that she is 21 years old and a widow with two children.

Lack of guardian/caretakers is one of the major social issues seen among the youth groups interviewed. Most of them have lost either both or one of their parents.

Youth is the transition period from childhood to adulthood. It is also a period where young people come across many physical and psychological changes. Therefore, advices and guidance of a responsible adult at this age is mandatory. When parents are killed or disappear due to war, the youth does not have anyone to guide them during their transition.

There are young girls in marriageable age in Allaipiddy who are unable to marry because of lack of the dowry. At the same time, their lack of education prevents them from finding employment with substantial salary.

Lack of shelter is another social issue identified at Allaipiddy. A young woman who explained her experiences mentioned that although she has a piece of land she does not have a house. She is living with her brother. There were few others who lived with friends or relatives due to lack of shelter. They are forced to depend on others.

Young widows and mothers of young children who do not have their own houses are highly vulnerable. Their personal security is at a threat. They could become victims of sexual abuses. Even though they live with friends or relatives, they are still vulnerable to such exploitations.

Those who have been injured due to bombing and shelling are permanently disabled. Some who have been treated for a long time, still face side effects of shelling as the metal pieces cannot be completely removed from their bodies. Permanent disabilities interrupt the economic activities and further, there are some who need the help of a third party to conduct day to day activities.

Having lived in Welfare Centers for a long time, they have not had proper health and sanitary facilities. Hence, they have been victims of epidemic diseases. Unavailability of nutritious food too is a threat to the health of these people. There is a high risk of being a prey of sexual assaults and such victims may encounter social diseases.

Youth of Allaipiddy, as many other youths in North and East, has often been victims of political issues which came about with the conflict. They were often forced to join the LTTE in one hand and on the other they were often looked upon as suspects by the Sri Lanka military forces. One young person, participating in our discussion said that his sister was arrested as a suspect of LTTE and was released after a month’s detention. Yet, the effect of the experience did not fade away even after she was declared her as non-LTTE by Courts. Further, there are incidents where young persons were abducted or where they disappeared.

Of all, the serious damage caused to youth through war is experiences of horror they witnessed since their childhood. It is obvious; the youth have experienced violence and horror than any other aspect in their lives. Post traumatic stress disorders, depression, phobias, personality disorders, illusions and delusions, and abnormal behavior are seen among the youth.


While the government and non-government actors have been taken initiatives to re-build people’s livelihoods, housing etc there remains a question whether the state and non-state actors are giving adequate attention to the youth victims as the findings of the young generation in Allaipiddy indicate. The war has had effect on the youth and this is despite their direct involvement as participants or as indirect victims of physical and emotional violence they have faced in the ongoing years. To add to that experience of forced political involvement during the conflict period and witnessing abduction and disappearances have resulted in lack of trust of society. Therefore there is an urgent need to look into the needs of the youth.


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