KUALA LUMPUR: Refugee protection for ethnic Chins will be maintained, in light of the security situation in southern Chin State in Myanmar, announced the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
UNHCR released a statement today affirming that Chin refugees may still require international protection, based on "a number of new reports and assessment which did not support its original conclusion of fundamental and durable changes in Chin State and Sagaing Region".
"We recognise that Chin refugees may still require international protection due to the worsening security situation in southern Chin State in Myanmar, which has resulted in new displacement," said Volker Türk, Assistant High Commissioner (Protection) for UNHCR.
"The decision to reassess our overall approach is in line with our stated commitment at the very start of the review process – that UNHCR would continue to monitor developments and revisit our position if warranted," he added.
The statement added that although counselling and individual reviews of Chin refugees had begun last year, no Chin refugees had lost their refugee status as a result of the revised processing approach.
It also said that UNHCR had noted "specific concerns raised by the Chin community and civil society organisations."
On June 13, 2018, UNHCR had issued a community message announcing the cessation of refugee protection for the Chins, based on "positive developments" in Chin State.
From Aug 1, 2018, Chin refugees who approach UNHCR to renew their refugee card receive two options: firstly, to extend their refugee protection until Dec 31, 2019, after which their refugee status will automatically cease and no longer renewed, and secondly, to request for an interview to determine that they require continuous refugee protection.
If they fail the interview, their refugee status will automatically cease and the UNHCR document will no longer be extended.
R.AGE reported on an increase in mental health issues such as anxiety, depression and suicide ideation after the UNHCR announcement.
Subsequently, R.AGE together with several independent refugee advocate organisations also launched The Chin Up Project, a multimedia video platform featuring interviews with the Chin community, many who say that they are not prepared to return to Chin state due to uncertainties and continuous reports of conflict.
There are currently more than 18,000 Chin refugees registered with UNHCR, with the vast majority (of more than 15,000) living in Malaysia. There are also Chin refugees in India, Thailand and Nepal.