How UNHCR's "cessation" policy affects Chin refugees
BANGKOK: The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has officially reversed its policy of terminating protections for ethnic Chin refugees, and will reissue standard documentation to those who have had their refugee cards withdrawn.
A spokesperson from the regional UNHCR office in Bangkok clarified that Chins who were issued "Under Consideration" papers since the previous policy took into effect last August would again receive standard UNHCR documentation.
"UNHCR offices in Chin-hosting countries will communicate (the) details of this process with the Chin community," said the spokesperson, in an email response to R.AGE on Friday (March 15).
The UNHCR card recognises the holder as a refugee under international protection, and gives several benefits including discounts at public healthcare centres and protection from detention by immigration enforcement.
When asked if cessation could be called again in the near future, the spokesperson said they will only reconsider international protection based on circumstances stipulated in Article 1C of the 1951
Refugee Convention, "which stipulates when international protection would no longer be necessary or justified."
Community leaders and civil society organisations have protested the ending of refugee protection for the Chins since it was announced last June, citing concerns that it was unsafe for them to return to Myanmar due to ongoing conflicts in southern parts of Chin State.
The spokesperson said UNHCR recognises the "anxiety and concern" created within the Chin community due to the individual review process, and that they will continue to address any confusion or misunderstanding through regular community meetings.
"The Chins will maintain their refugee status until a durable solution has been realised or it is determined that conditions enable the re-availing of national protection in Myanmar.
"We would welcome any decision by the (Malaysian) Government to allow the Chin to remain on a temporary legal basis, in line with the commitments in Article 35 of the (Pakatan Harapan) Election Manifesto," she added.
Article 35 includes legitimising refugees by issuing them UNHCR cards and giving them legal rights to work that is on par with the locals.
Wisma Putra and the National Security Council, which is in charge of refugee affairs in Malaysia, did not respond by press time.
The Chin Up Project by R.AGE
A statement released by UNHCR on Thursday (March 14) declared that the Chins will continue to receive international protection, based on "a number of new reports and assessments 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 UNHCR had noted "specific concerns raised by the Chin community and civil society organisations," and that no Chin refugees had yet lost their refugee status as a result of the revised processing approach.
A R.AGE investigation, however, found that the previous announcement of the ending of refugee protections had led to mass anxiety among the Chin community in Malaysia, and an increase in depression cases.
R.AGE subsequently worked with several NGOs to launch the Chin Up Project (www.chinup.my) to petition UNHCR and the Malaysian government to work towards more durable solutions for the Chin community.
There are currently more than 18,000 Chin refugees registered with UNHCR, of which 15,000 live in Malaysia. The rest are situated in India, Thailand and Nepal.