Newsletter: March 2020 Issue

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Welcome to the first issue of APRRN’s Newsletter for 2020! Here is a glimpse of what APRRN has been working on for the past 3 months. If you have any inquiries or feedback, kindly contact Rachel Tan at






Dear APRRN Members and Colleagues,

2019 went by very quickly here at the Secretariat. It was a year full of momentum and change, and one that started and ended with APRRN on the global stage. Early in the year, the case of Hakeem al-Araibi was front page international news and UNHCR abandoned efforts to enact cessation proceedings against Chin refugees in Malaysia and India. APRRN members were essential to the positive outcomes of both situations. In December, APRRN Chair Arash Bordbar took to the stage at the first Global Refugee Forum in Geneva, accompanied by other refugee members of APRRN, to provide the critical perspective of refugees and youth to the assembled delegates – an unprecedented involvement of refugees at global policy level.

Together we were able to advance the fundamental vision of APRRN in dramatic ways. We engaged national actors in Indonesia, Pakistan, Malaysia, Thailand and elsewhere to advance policy towards visible results. In Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and Hong Kong we saw our members engage compelling comparative analysis of asylum systems, towards creating joint legal strategies for greater protection. In the Pacific our members lobbied against restrictive policy developments, and advanced advocacy towards refugee sponsorship programmes and greater refugee leadership in policy making across the globe. In Bangladesh, our members convened a legal practitioners summit and continued to strategise around the increasing challenge of Rohingya displacement. In Geneva our Steering Committee assembled for a two-day strategic retreat. In all of our member countries, our dedicated membership continued to work hard for our common vision.

APRRN members engaged the UNHCR NGO Consultations in Geneva, attended and hosted short courses on refugee rights in Kathmandu and Bangkok, convened the first Asia Pacific Network of Refugees forum alongside an impressive Regional Protection Forum in Bangkok, assembled legal practitioners from India, Bangladesh, and around the world to discuss challenges arising from the Rohingya displacement and potentials around India’s amended citizenship law, and presented our priorities and concerns at the first Global Refugee Forum in Geneva.

All the while, the Secretariat has worked with our membership to advance the working groups, to ensure operations are sound, and to strategise opportunities, and to ensure we are responding to the needs and efforts of our members. It has been a privilege.

Reflecting on 2019, we in the Secretariat are moving into 2020 with a sense of optimism and with a renewed energy. I do not anticipate that the world will be kinder to refugees in 2020, but I know that APRRN does its best in the face of challenges: we are a membership filled with passionate and driven people. I very much look forward to the year ahead.

With best regards from Bangkok,

Themba Lewis signature

Themba Lewis


With lockdowns, physical distancing, closed borders and self-isolation, much has changed in the last few months. Despite these uncertain and difficult times, APRRN’s commitment to advancing the rights of refugees and those in need of protection remains unwavered. As conditions worsen with this global pandemic over the course of only a few weeks and lives of refugees becoming increasingly at risk, our diverse and dedicated membership is seen to spring into action in addressing critical needs in solidarity. While these recounts are not in its entirety, here are a few examples of what APRRN members have been doing:

  • Compiling information: refugee-led organisations and NGOs are developing educational posters, audio files, and videos in languages spoken by refugees, to spread awareness about what people can do to keep themselves and their loved ones safe. A database has been initiated to track the discourse around COVID-19 and refugees, and over 150 articles and statements have been compiled up-to-date by APRRN. Should you like to contribute to this database, you may do so here.
  • Joint advocacy: Members of APRRN and APRRN as a network have released a number of strong statements calling for the inclusion of refugees in national emergency preparedness plans. The geographic breadth of statements spans the range of our membership, from Afghan refugees in Iran to Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh to refugees in the Republic of Korea to asylum-seekers in Australia. More broadly, APRRN released a statement expressing concern over the impact of border closures on the right to seek asylum. This combination of nation-specific advocacy with regional statements, such as those published by APRRN and in collaboration with the Asia Pacific Network of Refugees (APNOR), keeps the pressure on governments not to forget particularly vulnerable communities. The Secretariat encourages members to contact us if they are interested in collaborating on statements going forward.
  • Making and distributing masks: Organisations are providing training and livelihoods for refugee women and youth by teaching them to make masks from cloths. A refugee community member living in an urban city translated a mask-making tutorial into Persian, while another is distributing hygiene care packages (soap and sanitiser, masks made by refugees, and instructions for responsible use and care) to refugee households.
  • Advocacy with the local government and assistance: Members have been actively fund-raising, making deliveries of food and necessities to communities in need. With the recent sizable outbreak due to the spread of the virus at a religious event in Malaysia, the government was at the verge of executing a crackdown of the migrant population who attended and fail to turn themselves in for Covid-19 testing. Advocacy by members have led the government to assure and ascertain refugees and undocumented migrants who attended that identifying themselves will not result in arrest. Active communication between the government and communities were made by members and many have now come forth to be tested.

  • Webinars and information sharing: Several members have initiated discussions around programmatic guidance around legal services and Covid-19 i.e. adjusting programmes to respond to quarantines, keeping staff and clients safe, and address additional vulnerabilities; developed audio-visuals and messaging for risk awareness; creating webinars as avenues for information-sharing and exchange of best practices
  • .

  • Technical expertise and support: Organisational member has created new online learning pathway with the aim of enabling humanitarians, including local responders, to be best equipped to respond to COVID-19. The pathway contains: Online technical capacity strengthening programmes to support humanitarians’ responses during this crisis, covering critical topics such as Public Health, Child Protection and Gender/Equality; online soft skills and remote working capacity strengthening programmes to support humanitarians’ responses during this crisis; a library of key downloadable resources relating to working in the context of COVID-19, including remote working guides and resilience support.

    We would like to commend and thank all members for the excellent work that they are doing, efforts they have initiated in responding to COVID-19. Many plans and physical events will likely be unfeasible and unforeseeable in the coming days. APRRN will continue to monitor closely, adapt and make the necessary adjustments to continue to be effective for the communities we serve. We hope the network will continue to be of support and that members will continue to be inspired.


    20-24 JANUARY 2020

    Contribution by Evan Jones, Asylum Access Malaysia

    From 20-24 January, civil society representatives, government officials, city mayors and other stakeholders descended upon Quito, Ecuador for the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD). As a state-led and non-binding process, discussions at the GFMD contribute to the global debate on migration and development. In addition, it provides a flexible, multi-stakeholder space where governments can discuss a range of multi-dimensional aspects related to the nexus of migration and development. Furthermore, the GFMD allows governments – in partnership with civil society, the private sector, the UN system, and other relevant stakeholders – to analyze and discuss sensitive issues, create consensus, pose innovative solutions, and share policy and practices.

    Newsletter - UNHCR-NGO Consultations

    APRRN was represented at the 2019 GFMD by Carolina Gottardo, our focal point for the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM). Other APRRN members were also in attendance including Evan Jones (Asylum Access) and Dr. Gopal Krishna Siwakoti (INHURED International). All APRRN members played roles during the GFMD as panellists, moderators, rapporteurs and discussion starters.

    The substantive agenda of the Quito GFMD Summit focused upon three roundtable themes, which were discussed in across six sessions i.e. Providing regular pathways from crisis to safety, Facilitating social and economic inclusion, Shaping public narratives on migration and migrants, Communicating effectively with migrants, Supporting arrival cities through policy coherence and multi-stakeholder partnerships, and, Harnessing migration for rural transformation and development.

    As part of the Civil Society Day at the beginning of the forum, civil society participants agreed on a range of messages to be brought to the Common Space Day with governments and the business sector. Civil society recommendations included:

    1. The effects of climate change are often borderless, therefore, tackling them requires collective action which involves national and local state actors, climate change experts, academics, and also regional civil society networks. The links between climate change and human mobility are complex, yet the focus should remain on climate change. Focusing too much on migration and displacement numbers risks feeding into a narrative of “invasion”.

    2. Cities can play a major role in keeping migrants safe. In that sense, sanctuary cities are an important alternative to the criminalisation of migrants and migration. Civil society representatives acknowledge the importance of upholding shared human values and demand to immediately stop the interference with humanitarian search and rescue missions at sea. Furthermore, civil society representatives ask that governments “be mindful of language that perpetuates this idea that migrants in themselves are ‘illegal’ and therefore not deserving, or simplified narratives of migrants being responsible for the lack of jobs. These not only exacerbate negative public opinion but also provide the basis for discriminatory policies. ”

    3. The focus should be on migrants’ access to rights as opposed to ‘access to services’, with an emphasis on respecting the dignity and humanity of all migrants regardless of their migration status.

    4. Effective partnerships involving all necessary actors at local and national level and across borders are key to upholding dignified labor migration policies and practices as well as access to decent work and safe working conditions. As a positive example, “the Global Compact for Migration provided an opportunity for trade unions and civil society in Nepal, Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka to engage more effectively together and with governments on labor migration.”

    5. The needs of migrants in mixed migration movements need to be met through the application of humanitarian principles, regardless of their status, and in partnerships across all agencies, civil society organisations, governments and local state actors.

    For more details about the 2019 Ecuador GFMD, please visit their website here


    13 FEBRUARY 2020

    The detention of a child because of their or their parent’s migration status constitutes a child rights violation and always contravenes the principles of the best interests of the child. In this light, States should expeditiously and completely cease the detention of children on the basis of their immigration status.

    – UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, Report of the 2012 Day of General Discussion on the Rights of All Children in the Context of International Migration, para. 78.

    In 2017, APRRN and other members of the Thai civil society – many of whom are APRRN members – met to assess the Government of Thailand’s progress towards ending immigration detention of children and to provide suggestions for how to improve the scores in the future. This same activity took place in countries worldwide; the resulting NextGen Index enables governments to compare their performance year-to-year and between countries. APRRN joined the one-day ‘End Child Detention Scorecard Workshop’ as facilitated by Fortify Rights this year.

    2019 saw Thailand taking a right step forward through its establishment of formal procedures for releasing children and their mothers from immigration detention (read more here). Following declarations by ASEAN and by the Thai Government at the Global Refugee Forum, there is hope that Thailand will make further steps in 2020 to end the detention of children.


    13-14 FEBRUARY 2020

    Contribution by Muzafar Ali, Co-Founder of Cisarua Learning

    As a national umbrella body for refugees and refugee advocates, Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) organises the Refugee Alternatives Conference every year since 2017. This year’s conference was convened on 13 to 14 February and co-hosted by Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Brisbane. The annual Refugee Alternatives Conference is probably one of the most significant refugee advocacy events in the Australian calendar year.

    Newsletter - UNHCR-NGO Consultations

    Theme of this year’s conference was ‘Challenge of Change’. This theme was chosen in light of the political attitude and worsening refugee crises in Australia and the region. The discussions in the main sessions were thoughtfully pieced together to focus refugee issues on national and regional levels, and lead toward solution-oriented discussions. The conference veered to enthuse refugee advocates and activists to act as a ‘movement’ for aspirations.

    Newsletter - UNHCR-NGO Consultations

    60% of the conference speakers had lived experience as refugees or from refugee background. The surge in refugee representation in such conferences is another stride by RCOA to achieve meaningful refugee participation and self-representation. Moreover, refugee participants and speakers represented diverse backgrounds, such as LGBTIQ, women, refugees on Temporary Protection Visa (TPV) or Safe Haven Enterprise Visa (SHEV), university students. Participants with no refugee backgrounds represented all walks of life. They were human rights defenders, lawyers, aid workers, refugee advocates and activists, academics, indigenous community members, lawyers, community representatives and civil servants.

    Refugee Alternatives Conference 2020 was also an opportunity to encompass strategic refugee events such as Global Refugee Forum (GRF). Most of the participants were keen to know more about new global mechanisms and tools for refugee protection.

    In short main aim of Refugee Alternatives Conference 2020 was to bring an eclectic gamut of expertise in the areas of displacement, protection, wellbeing, cooperation, education, advocacy and resilience, and to amalgamate approaches in Australia and overseas. Maximising refugee participation and representation in the conference bolster engagements of experts for better knowledge and understanding of the refugee issues.

    Newsletter - UNHCR-NGO Consultations

    ‘Challenge of Change’ was the title of opening session to set the scene for two-day conversations. Kelly Nichols (RCOA), Zita Ngor (Women’s Legal Service), and Muzafar Ali (Cisarua Learning) presented a range of challenging issues and shifting approaches. Key discussion points were Australia’s post-election policy landscape, threats and opportunities, refugee self-representation and participation in this landscape, and an update from GRF and the new approaches by UNHCR to rally support for refugee protection. Though speakers of the session agreed upon the hostility of Australian government toward refugees in general and offshore detainees in particular, they also stressed the opportunities, such as unified and coordinated actions that could fruit success in policy change.

    Plenary that captivated the full-house-audience was ‘Unpacking Lived Experience Leadership’. An impressive array of diverse participants, mostly with refugee background, including Shukufa Tahiri (RCOA), Nishadh Rego (Jesuit Refugee Service Australia), Zaki Haidari (community representative), Dominic Golding (National Ethnic Disability Alliance), Cyprien Ntezimana (Rwandan Association of Queensland), and Rhanna Collins (National Indigenous Television). They shared their perspectives about lived experience from different settings, representation, leadership and solidarity. They called for impactful refugee engagement from the departments for change of attitude with refugee when they adopt policies and forge partnership with refugees, instead of considering them as beneficiaries.

    Wisdom comes from lived experience, and decision-making processes must consider this wisdom to embed in policies that affect refugees’ lives”
    – Shukufa Tahiri

    It is important for government agencies and organisations to work with refugees than work for refugees.”
    – Cyprien Ntezimana

    Others discussed the Australian government’s policies that create obstacles for a dignified life for refugees.

    “Refugees were not given right to work, and we were forced to rely on Centrelink payments. These are dehumanising policies. We want to call Australia home, but these policies disconnect us from Australian communities, inflict pain in our daily life. Like other Australians, I’d like to get education and work and live with my family. But current policies make all these impossible.”
    – Zaki Haidari

    Another key session was ‘How to Hold Government Accountable’ by Savitri Taylor (La Trobe University) and Graham Thom (Amnesty International Australia) who spoke about the role ordinary Australians can play to scrutinise government for their harsh policies and treatment of refugees. Savitri Taylor glided through the newly launched comprehensive segment on RCOA website ‘Keeping the Australian Government Accountable: A Guide’. Graham Thom galvanised the importance of using Freedom of Information (FOI) to the audience.

    “FOI can be a helpful mechanism for scrutinising detainees that could sometimes result in freedom of the detainee. While observing mistreatment of refugees by authorities, if we do not use FOI, it means we are granting them impunity.”
    – Graham Thom

    Tina Dixson and Renee Dixson (Queer Sisterhood Project) led special session on ‘Queer Displacement: Working Towards Safety and Inclusion of LGBTIQ+ People Seeking Asylum and Refugees. Tina and Renee organised Australia’s first conference focusing the rights of LGBTIQ refugees in Canberra 2019. Both charismatic and passionate advocates of LGBTIQ refugees, updated the audience about Canberra conference and the Canberra Statement, which is about access to safety and justice for queer refugees. This session also focused persisting challenges faced by LGBTIQ refugees, as they are perceived as minority groups in Australia.

    Newsletter - UNHCR-NGO Consultations

    National Refugee-led Advisory and Advocacy Group (NRAAG) was also launched on the 14th of February. NRAAG organised first national refugee dialogue on the same day. The need for national refugee advocacy body surfaced during last year’s Refugee Alternatives Conference in Adelaide. Current NRAAG steering committee members, consist of young refugee advocates and representatives, were also pioneers to develop the idea into a reality. NRAAG is the first refugee-led body that will bear a hefty responsibility of representing refugee issues on national and international level. Considering the commitment, enthusiasm and capabilities, the members of NRAAG would certainly do this job with positive impacts.

    Newsletter - UNHCR-NGO Consultations

    Three Main Takeaways

    RCOA’s long commitment in providing opportunities for refugee advocates to raise their voice and take part in high level dialogues. The increasing number of refugee representation and participation in each of the conference says it all. They were vocal and share their views with no fear. For example, several TPV/SHEV holder refugees were invited to speak about their experiences in Australia. Audience were shocked to know how Australia’s strict and inhumane immigration policies impact daily lives of thousands of refugees. On the other hand, resilience from the same group offered glimmer of hope and food for thought for the participants. Overall, RCOA is doing a great deal to let refugees speak for themselves and learn about refugee support networks around Australia. It is indeed a two-way learning. The conference was also significant as it provided an opportunity for emerging refugee leaders to experience a national-level conversation. For example, a group of undergraduate students from Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane were participating in such event for the first time. Their enthusiasm, eagerness to speak could attract anyone’s attention. Moreover, formulation of the idea of national refugee-led advocacy and formation of NRAAG was made possible through the same conference.

    Newsletter - UNHCR-NGO Consultations

    Newsletter - UNHCR-NGO Consultations

    Refugee Alternatives Conference has become a melting pot of diverse actors who are engaged directly and indirectly with refugees. This year’s inclusion of an indigenous speaker with other refugees was an intriguing idea, as she spoke about her personal, community and organisational experience on common grounds with refugees. There was incredible amount of ideas that the participants shared and learned from each other. Since the first conference back in 2017, it has become a landmark refugee advocacy opportunity where all actors meet and share their experiences, achievements, challenges, ideas and opportunities. For example, representatives from Rural Australians for Refugees (RAR) use this as an event to learn and take messages to their close-knit refugee support groups in their communities.

    Newsletter - UNHCR-NGO Consultations

    Considering the persisting hostile policies on refugees, this year’s theme ‘Challenge for Change’ was a call for organisations, representatives, rights activists, support groups and advocates to act with unity, coordination and collaboration. Re-election of current government requires more robust advocacy to police change for the good of refugees. The conference was an attempt to explore the opportunities where the refugee organisations could exploit. For example, the update and discussion on GRF was presented as an opportunity that Australia-based refugee bodies can join the global movement. Moreover, sessions including ‘Holding government accountable’, ‘Getting involve in Asia-Pacific region’ and grassroots approach to ‘Building communities for change’ offered pragmatic discussions and ideas for participants to ponder.

    The Challenge of Change:
    LE Leadership Plenary:


    Two new team members have joined the APRRN Secretariat this quarter, namely Daniel Davies as the new Programme Officer and Michelle Soe Moe as the new Programme Associate.

    Michelle Soe Moe joined the APRRN Secretariat in mid-March and has just recently graduated with a Master’s Degree on Human Rights and Democratisation from the Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies, Mahidol University. She had previously worked with FORUM-ASIA and interned with ACT Alliance and Coconuts Media. She aspires to increase the visibility of APRRN’s work and refugee rights as a whole.

    Daniel Davies joined the APRRN Secretariat in February. Trained as a lawyer in New York, Daniel worked for over three years at St. Andrew’s Refugee Services in Egypt in a range of capacities, including legal aid and advocacy, and was a founding member of the community outreach department. Thailand is the twelfth country he’s lived in. He is excited to learn from, work with, and get to know APRRN’s diverse membership in this new capacity.

    Janeen Sawatzky, APRRN’s Programme Coordinator is also a new member to the team who has just joined in December. Hailing from Vancouver, Canada, Janeen has spent the past 5 years, working with community-based human rights organisations on the Thai-Myanmar border in research and advocacy roles. She joins the Secretariat with a Bachelors of Arts (International Development, Political Science) from the University of Toronto, Canada, and a Master of Science in Refugee and Forced Migration Studies (Oxford University).

    Newsletter - UNHCR-NGO Consultations

    APRRN warmly welcomes them on board!


    ’China has its own brand of fake news when it comes to human rights and the Uyghurs’

    ‘인종차별 불 지르는 바이러스 공포’

    ‘Refugees in Asia face delays, pushbacks as coronavirus shuts borders’
    ‘Many refugees in Asia at risk’
    ‘Special measures needed to curb Covid-19 in refugee and migrant communities’

    ‘武漢肺炎》羅興亞難民參加清真寺集會 大馬追查2千人無進展’

    ‘Ensure New Refugee Regulation Meets International Standards’


  • APRRN drafted the NGO Statement for Asia and the Pacific for the UNHCR Standing Committee Meeting this year
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