UNHCR REGIONAL’S EMAIL RESPONSE TO R.AGE, DATED OCT 23, 2018

R.AGE: We understand that refugee protection for ethnic Chins are being phased out because UNHCR is of the opinion that the Chins' home state is now safe for return. What is UNHCR's basis for coming to this conclusion? Are there reports and studies that can be shared?

UNHCR: A review process has been underway to determine the continued international protection needs of the Chin in all countries hosting Chin refugees, including Malaysia, India, Thailand and Nepal.

This process was undertaken following a careful analysis over several years of the political, social and security developments in Chin State and Sagaing Region of Myanmar.  Information was taken from a variety of sources, including missions undertaken to the region by UNHCR staff and information available in the public domain.  

For the past year, UNHCR has been undertaking refugee status determination for around 16,000 Chin asylum seekers to determine whether they may be recognized as refugees.  From those who have undergone status determination most have been determined not to meet the definition of a refugee under the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and are considered as not having sustainable international protection claims.

In respect of Chin refugees, who number approximately 16,000 in Malaysia and are present in lower numbers in India, UNHCR is now undertaking individual counselling to further inform each Chin refugee of UNHCR’s assessment of the changes in circumstances in Chin State/Sagaing Region and the rationale for re-evaluating continued protection needs.  UNHCR will answer any questions refugees have about the process and its implications. Chin refugees who consider that their specific circumstances necessitate continued international protection have a right to raise these circumstances with UNHCR during an individual interview. UNHCR staff will assess any such claims objectively, thoroughly, and fairly and will ensure that those who, due to a continued well-founded fear of persecution or compelling reasons arising out of previous persecution, meet the criteria for continued protection will maintain status.

Analysis of country conditions is a continual process and UNHCR is always responsive to any change in country conditions or new information.  

 

R.AGE: Are there other reasons why refugee protection is being withdrawn for the Chins? If yes, what are these reasons?

UNHCR: No Chin refugee has lost their status to date.  Globally, UNHCR is constantly monitoring conditions in countries where refugees come from, both to assess whether asylum seekers need our protection and “refugee” status as well as to assess if people already recognized as refugees still need our support or whether they can return home safely.

R.AGE: How will UNHCR assist the Chin community during this transitional phase?

UNHCR: UNHCR is now undertaking individual counselling to further inform each Chin refugee of UNHCR’s assessment of the changes in circumstances in Chin State/Sagaing Region and the rationale for re-evaluating continued protection needs. UNHCR will answer any questions refugees have about the process and its implications.  

Chin refugees who consider that their specific circumstances necessitate continued international protection have a right to raise these circumstances with UNHCR during an individual interview. UNHCR staff will assess any such claims objectively, thoroughly, and fairly and will ensure that those who, due to a continued well-founded fear of persecution or compelling reasons arising out of previous persecution, meet the criteria for continued protection will maintain status.

Since the process began, and with 1,994 individual Chin refugees counselled as of the end of September 2018, 85% of individuals have agreed with UNHCR’s assessment that they are no longer in need of international protection.

Those who believe they have continued protection needs are being individually assessed in respect of their claims. This process, of individual assessment in respect of those who continue to advance protection claims is ongoing.

To date however, not a single Chin refugee has fully undergone this process of individual assessment nor has a single Chin refugee been issued with any final negative decision. Any Chin refugee determined to continue to have international protection needs would of course, maintain their status.

While those who are in agreement with UNHCR’s assessment continue to have their cards renewed to end December 2019, those who advance continued protection needs are not left without protection and are issued letters detailing their continued status as refugees but with shorter timelines necessary for the proper functioning of the process.  

UNHCR has ensured that holders of the refugee letter will be treated the same as those who hold the refugee card in terms of safety and security, health benefits, assistance, etc.  

R.AGE: What are the options for the Chin community as their refugee protection ends?

UNHCR: UNHCR will work closely with Chin refugee communities to find durable solutions for people affected by the new procedures.

Solutions could include resettlement, local integration or the possibility of voluntary return to Myanmar.  

In Malaysia, we would welcome any decision by the Government to allow the Chin to remain on a temporary legal basis, in line with its commitments in Article 34 of its Election Manifesto.

R.AGE: There have been reports in the media, from NGOs, as well as from the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar who raised concerns about the stability of Chin state as well as Myanmar in general. Is UNHCR concerned that withdrawing refugee protection would lead many persons of concern to return to harm's way in Myanmar?

UNHCR: Based on assessments, UNHCR believes that circumstances that originally gave rise to flight from Chin State no longer exist and that Chin refugees may return to Chin State and Sagaing Region in safety and dignity.  However, UNHCR will continue to monitor the situation in Chin State and Sagaing Region closely.  Should there be any change in the conditions and UNHCR determines individuals are no longer able to receive protection from the Myanmar authorities, UNHCR will communicate this information directly to the Chin community and will discontinue steps to reassess individual refugee status.

Some parties have pointed out that the cessation of refugee protection for the Chins contravenes UNHCR's own guidelines for cessation. What is UNHCR's response to this?

The individual review process outlined above is not contradictory to UNHCR guidelines. Since this process began and as of end September 2018, from some 1,994 individual Chin refugees counselled, 85% of individuals have agreed with UNHCR’s assessment that they are no longer in need of international protection.

Those who believe they have continued protection needs are being individually assessed in respect of their claims. This process, of individual assessment in respect of those who continue to advance protection claims, is ongoing. To date however, not a single Chin refugee has fully undergone this process of individual assessment nor has a single Chin refugee been issued with any final negative decision. Any Chin refugee determined to continue to have international protection needs would of course, maintain their status.