Newsletter: September 2019 Issue

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Welcome to the third issue of APRRN’s Newsletter for 2019! 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







13-17 JUNE 2019
Newsletter - Asia Regional CSO Consultation

The Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRRN) organised the second South Asia Short Course on Refugee Rights and Advocacy from the 13 to the 17 June 2019 in Kathmandu, Nepal. The main objective of this Short Course was to strengthen participants’ understanding of forced migration in South Asia through a human rights perspective, to build capacity and knowledge in advocating for the rights of refugees in the respective national and regional contexts. In order to ensure relevance in the South Asian context, the South Asia Short Course was structured and conducted in close collaboration with the Kathmandu School of Law (KSL) of Nepal, JAIN University of India, the Vice-Chairperson of the UN CEDAW Committee, the Kathmandu Bureau of the Agence France-Presse (AFP) and a local Nepali organisation known as INHURED International.

24 participants from Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka comprising of a diverse range of refugee community leaders, researchers, legal advocates, academicians, public prosecutor and civil society organisations attended the five-day course. Refugee participants who were present were from the Rohingya, Tibetans, Bhutanese and Afghan communities.

Comprising of a diverse range of refugee community leaders, researchers, legal advocates, academicians, public prosecutor and civil society organisations attended the five – day course. Refugee participants who were present were from the Rohingya, Tibetans, Bhutanese and Afghan communities.

The Short Course was divided into main themes, namely ‘Introduction to Refugee Rights and Advocacy’; ‘Elements, Instruments and Channels for Advocacy’, whereby practitioners in different fields such as the media and UN agencies shared their experiences and standpoints for effective advocacy; ‘Out in the Field’, which included a session on incorporating refugee voices and interactive sharing of a real-life testimony from a Sri Lankan returnee who is a strong advocate with lived-experience, as well as visits to the Rohingya and Tibetan communities around the Kathmandu area. Towards the end of the course, participants were taken through the practical steps on how to plan and strategise for refugee advocacy in ‘Putting Advocacy Into Action’.

Each participant was required to prepare an advocacy issue of interest which they would like to explore throughout the course. All participants democratically chose four main advocacy themes, which were later on developed into four advocacy strategy plans focused around different country contexts. The themes were repatriation and reintegration, ending sexual gender-based violence, documentation, and non-refoulement. Apart from the elaborate strategic advocacy plans, one of the main outcomes of the course was the unanimous drafting of the letter of advocacy to UNHCR regarding the heavy lack of support for the Rohingya community.

Newsletter - Asia Regional CSO Consultation

Following the visit and the Short Course, participants continue to widen their network and discuss possible collaborations with each other. The Rohingya community has now established an informal English class for some of the leaders and a local volunteer is helping to identify some of the basic protection needs of the refugees in the settlements.

For the report, please see here.


16-21 JUNE 2019

APRRN, through the Rohingya Working Group, organised a field visit to Bangladesh for representatives of National Human Rights Institutions (NHRI) from ASEAN countries. The purpose of the visit was to equip the NHRI and ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) representatives’ with greater knowledge and understanding of the Rohingya refugee crisis and to empower them to play a stronger role in influencing foreign policy and regional positions within ASEAN Member States on the issue.

Newsletter - Asia Regional CSO Consultation

The delegation comprised of the Representative of Malaysia to the AICHR and NHRI representatives from Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, accompanied by the APRRN Chair of the Rohingya Working Group, and two APRRN Secretariat staff. The delegation spent two days in Dhaka, and two days in Cox’s Bazar. Meetings were held with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), International Organisation for Migration (IOM), National Human Rights Commission of Bangladesh (NHRCB), the Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner (RRRC), international NGOs, local civil society organisations and individuals, and several ASEAN diplomats based in Dhaka. The delegation spent a full day at Kutupalong refugee camp, meeting with Rohingya community leaders, civil society organisations, and women and youth groups; and visiting the Malaysian Field Hospital.

The representatives made commitments and plans to advocate for the protection of the rights of Rohingya refugees, particularly in relation to the issue of repatriation which was a key area of focus within ASEAN. As a result of the visit, there has been collaborative advocacy between APRRN and the Malaysian NHRI and AICHR representatives towards the Malaysian Foreign Ministry. APRRN and the representatives continue to update each other on regional developments of the Rohingya crisis and on any advocacy opportunities.


22-23 JUNE 2019

Newsletter - UNHCR-NGO Consultations

Bangladeshi legal practitioners and advocates were brought together around common principles of international protection and positive practice in the context of the Rohingya refugee crisis, in order to foster a spirit of collaboration, at every level. The difficulty of the operating environment; the magnitude and complexity of the situation; and the politics and dynamics between government, NGOs, UN Organizations, refugee communities, and host communities can all result in growing division and tension, organizations working in isolation, and ultimately can undermine the overall humanitarian response. The reality is that the needs are well beyond what any one actor, including any one government, could possibly handle on their own. Actors must come together in a “whole-of-society approach” in order to have leverage, influence, and practical impact. APRRN partnered with BLAST, Bangladeshi member, to present this two day workshop.

The workshop explored how the legal community can promote access to the kinds of protection, legal aid, and services (health, education, livelihoods) to which they are entitled.

The workshop pursued the following objectives:

• To mobilise lawyers, legal service providers and civil society organisations for increased and more effective engagement with the Rohingya community.
• To support the development of strategies and capacity among the legal community and civil society to interview ethically and sensitively, through an interpreter, in order to recognise international protection needs, as well as vulnerabilities and risks, and then understand the best way to respond for the Rohingya community in the Bangladesh context. This included consideration of the laws or customs to be applied or frameworks to follow when responding to legal disputes in particular in cases of violence against women (VAW), and the laws to be applied in ensuring safety and security of the communities; and the rights of the communities to represent themselves and be heard, and how this can be facilitated.
• To create networks among relevant stakeholders, particularly the legal community of Bangladesh, and organisations engaged in research, advocacy, or service provision to the Rohingya community.
• To explore strategies for improved access of the legal community to the Rohingya community and the Rohingya community to the legal community.

Newsletter - UNHCR-NGO Consultations

The workshop used roundtable discussions, case studies, and small group work to engage participants so that the outcomes are the product of the participants themselves. Substantively, access issues; recognising needs, vulnerabilities, and risks; and responding ethically and strategically to persons who have faced forcible displacement was the primary focus of the training components of the workshop.


28 JUNE 2019
Newsletter - UNHCR-NGO Consultations

Towards the end of June, Patcharin Nawichai, the Operations Coordinator of APRRN joined several others in Bangkok for a regional training supported by the European Union, UNICEF, Save the Children and the International Social Service on Case Management for Children on the Move. The training workshop was purposed to enhance participants’ knowledge and understanding of the key principles and steps to effective case management for the protection of children on the move. Participants also study relevant regional, multi-lateral and bilateral mechanisms on cross-border casework management. Participants who attended the workshop include delegates from the ASEAN Secretariat, ASEAN countries and civil society representatives.

Annual Tripartite Consultations on Resettlement – UNHCR

1-2 JULY 2019

APRRN was represented at the Annual Tripartite Consultations on Resettlement (ATCR) by the Themba Lewis, the Secretary General. APRRN’s Chair Arash Bordbar also attended, alongside a number of additional APRRN members. While APRRN works towards the substantive enjoyment of refugee rights across the region, resettlement becomes a critical protection tool where these cannot be realised. APRRN therefore hopes to increase engagement with ATCR in the future in order to contribute global dialogues regarding resettlement priorities, the three-year strategy, and how best to expand protection space through resettlement and innovative pathways. Representation and participation by APRRN allows for a bridging of information gaps between policy leadership and ground-level actors, including refugees themselves, that are members of the ARRN network.

APRRN members presented as part of the following plenaries:

• Children and Adolescents at Risk plenary, APRRN Chair Arash Bordbar, representing the UNHCR Global Youth Advisory Council, and Nadine Liddy, representing MYAN Australia
• The Three-Year Strategy on Resettlement and Complementary Pathways: A Shared Vision for the Future of Resettlement and Complementary Pathways, APRRN Chair Arash Bordbar, representing the UNHCR Global Youth Advisory Council
• Strengthening Meaningful Refugee Participation in Resettlement and Complementary Pathways, APRRN Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific Working Group Deputy Chair Paul Power, representing the Refugee Council of Australia

Legal Empowerment Leadership Convening by Asylum Access

1 JULY 2019

On the margins of the annual UNHCR NGO Consultations, representatives of national and international NGOs leading legal empowerment programs serving refugees came together with the objective to exchange knowledge, experiences, lessons learned and best practices. The convening provided an opportunity to learn from peers and experts in the field, and in the lead up to the 2019 Global Refugee Forum, to develop a common agenda and advocacy around the promotion of legal empowerment for refugees as a fundamental part of Sustainable Development Goal 16: Access to Justice for all. Several APRRN members engaged actively in this full-day event as presenters, participants, and moderators.

A crucial part of the Convening saw participants working together to collectively identify advocacy points and issues for the annual joint UNHCR NGO RSD retreat, which took place the following day, 2 July, and collaboration around legal empowerment regional or thematic issues to be raised during the Annual Consultations.


3-5 JULY 2019

Newsletter - UNHCR-NGO Consultations

Each year more than 500 NGO representatives from around the world make their way to Geneva, Switzerland for the UNHCR Annual Consultations with NGOs. These consultations are a major event for national NGOs, community-based organisations, UNHCR implementing partners, human rights groups and refugee representatives themselves. The consultations provide an important space for debate on global and regional themes, and an opportunity to explore fresh collaboration on advocacy and operational issues. The event constitutes a forum within which attendees are able to highlight current challenges and discuss recommendations and solutions. The consultations also provide ample opportunity for issues to be raised with UNHCR, with the long-term aim of influencing UNHCR policies.

The APRRN Secretariat and APRRN members have been attending the consultations since 2009. Over this time APRRN has achieved a high-degree of visibility, primarily due to the targeted and effective interventions and constructive dialogue that has been nurtured over many years. This year approximately 60 APRRN members were present at the consultations and actively involved as participants, moderators, note takers and panelists. One young woman from Afghanistan now living in Australia represented APRRN’s Youth Working Group. The Woman, Gender and Diversity Working Group Representative was a young woman recently resettled to New Zealand. Other refugee delegates from the region came from Australia, New Zealand and Sri Lanka and have lived refugee experiences in Asia (Pakistan, India, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia).

The overarching theme of this year’s consultations was “Working Together Better” a theme that highlights the focus of UNHCR towards strengthening, revitalizing and improving the quality of its partnerships with NGOs. Under this theme, the Consultations consisted of three main components; how data and evidence can be utilised to improve refugee welfare, the ongoing process of UNHCR regionalisation and examing how NGOs can engage in, and contribute to the upcoming first Global Refugee Forum.

Similarly to previous years, the 2019 consultations consisted of workshops, panels and “food for thought” sessions. On Day 2 APRRN’s Secretary General Themba Lewis moderated a panel with Kelly T. Clements Deputy High Commissioner, Indrika Ratwatte, Director of Regional Bureaua for Asia and the Pacific and Daisy Dell, Director of Change Management UNHCR on the regionalisation/decentralisation of UNHCR, and the impact of this restructuring on UNHCR NGO partnerships. The social media summaries provide a useful snapshot from some of the discussions that occurred during the Consultations.

This year’s agenda diverged from previous years, as it did not include the usual sessions for the various regional bureaus. The agenda featured thematic sessions on a number of issues including: IDPS and data, Using Social Media to Drive Change, Enhancing Partnership Integrity, Protecting Rights in Mixed Movements and Inclusion of Refugees and Other Persons of Concern. The agenda also featured a number of side events related to the main theme.

Carolina Gottardo, the Chair of APRRN’s Women, Gender and Diversity Working Group speaks about the need to include and focus on factors beyond those that are economic that plays into ensuring safe and dignified returns and reintegration of refugees and migrants, and the need to involve a diverse array of actors, particularly refugees, in the whole-of-society approach.

Further links:
Agenda and background documents


3-5 JULY 2019

Each year APRRN arranges a series of side meetings with UNHCR senior staff, relevant permanent missions and other stakeholders to allow our members a chance to provide updates on APRRN’s work and to raise issues of concern from around the region.
This year APRRN delegations composed of Secretariat staff and key APRRN members and Refugee representatives of respectively the Youth and Women, Gender and Diversity Working Groups held a number of informal side meetings with representatives of the Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific (Asia Bureau), and the Permanent Missions of the U.S., Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia in Geneva.


3-5 JULY 2019


I am very grateful for the opportunity to have represented APRRN as a Youth Representative at the 2019 UNHCR NGO Consultations in Geneva, Switzerland. IMG_5149As someone who was participating the Consultations for the first time, I was completely new and did not know what to expected. However, being able to attend and participate in the discussions allowed for a nuanced understanding of the work of the UNHCR, in particular, how the organisation manoeuvres the enormous number of refugees globally. The discussions reinforced the fact that the global refugee phenomenon is ever-growing, complex and challenging. While it was enlightening and rewarding to experience high-level talks and discussions on topics very close to my heart, it was nonetheless, disheartening to see how little progress is made, due to the large scale of the phenomenon, as well as various stakeholders with vested interest.

Due to the large number of individuals and organisations who took part in the Consultations, it was therefore challenging to gain the platform to raise particular issues. Due to the nature of my position as a Youth Representative, my focus was primarily to raise issues related to the youth in the Asia Pacific region. However, the youth were almost ‘forgotten’ and there was no mention of them throughout the discussions. Nevertheless, I was able to raise a question in relation to what mechanisms UNHCR is willing to implement in order for the safe and secure deportation of refugees and people seeking asylum from Europe.

I will be a participant at the APRRN Regional Protection Forum in Bangkok in September and look forward to further discussions in relation to some of the points/outcomes which came out of the Consultations. I will also work closely with APNOR and APRRN for the forthcoming GRF in Geneva in December. I will soon be heading back to my studies in Oxford and will start my thesis on Australia’s refugee policy which was established since 2001 and will be drawing upon my learnings from the Consultations. My plans soon after that is to pursue my postgraduate studies and write my thesis on Australia’s refugee policy post-2001, with a particular research focus on refugees and people seeking from the Hazara background.


IMG_5149It has been an honour and privilege to me that I was sponsored by APRRN to attend UNHCR consultation meeting as a refugee delegate representing APRRN. As a part of my participation, I was able to join the side meetings with the Asia Bureau of UNHCR, the Malaysian and Australian Permanent Mission as a former refugee and as a team member for Gender Audit team.

Some of the issues I’ve raised during the side meetings include the urgent need for durable solutions especially for refugees in Malaysia, Indonesia, Bangladesh; voluntary and safe repatriation; rights to work for refugees so that they may contribute to the local economy and community; increase in more meaningful participation of refugees in the different sectors and programmes; as well as to help women and girls to self-empower with proper support system in order to reduce the risks for SGBV.

I had an insightful experience, seeing the international and regional actors advocating for and together with refugees, and have a better understanding of the workings of UNHCR and INGOs. During my time in Geneva, I had good mentors from the colleagues and members of APRRN and gender audit team, especially Linda Bartolomei from the Forced Migration Research Network of University of New South Wales and Apajok Biar. I met many inspiring individuals from different backgrounds who dedicate their passion to serve others. It was an incredible opportunity for me to advocate for my fellow refugees and communities within my capacity with the support from APRRN and gender audit team. I would like to see APRRN bringing more refugees and former refugees who are passionate for the cause of refugee, asylum seekers and stateless to the consultations to speak on behalf of their communities.



A series of week-long training and research consultations were held in Kuala Lumpur and the Thai-Burma border as part of a 3.5-year action research project entitled ‘Refugee Women and Girls: Key to the Global Compact on Refugees’. This project is led by Dr. Linda Bartolomei, Dr. Eileen Pittaway and Ms. Geraldine Doney from the Forced Migration Research Network, University of New South Wales. It is a reciprocal collaborative project carried out in partnership with APRRN, refugee women, service providers and UNHCR from five different countries in the Asia Pacific purposed to facilitate, support and monitor the implementation of gender commitments made to refugee women and girls in the Global Compact on Refugees (GCR). These commitments include addressing gender inequality, meaningful inclusion of women and girls in decision making and leadership, as well as preventing and better responding to sexual and gender-based violence – a significant barrier to participation.

The aims of the consultations carried out in July and August were to explore the situational challenges of refugee women and girls living in Kuala Lumpur and the Thai-Burma border camps, and to work with multiple stakeholders, especially with the refugee women themselves, to develop strategies for implementation of the GCR commitments. Both consultations included a week-long training and research workshop with over 70 refugee women and men. It also includes the analysis from refugee participants and other stakeholders of their analysis of identified challenges and strategies in moving forward, a roundtable workshop to identify stakeholder commitments and plan next steps. Follow-up consultations/workshops in each site will support the development of implementation tools/strategies with training support for project design and monitoring/evaluation activities. Findings will be shared by refugee women at the 2019 Global Refugee Forum.


17 JULY to 1 AUGUST 2019
Contribution by Hayat Akbari, Chair of the Youth Working Group

One year ago, after the historic affirmation of the Global Compact on Refugees (GCR) passed by the United Nations General Assembly, UNHCR is starting the first Global Refugee Forum (GRF) which is to be held every four years to achieve the objectives of GCR and seek pledges and commitments from UN member States and other stake holders.

The first Global Refugee Forum will be co-hosted by UNHCR and, Switzerland, and co-convened by Costa Rica, Ethiopia, German, Pakistan and Turkey. The Forum will take place in Geneva, Switzerland, on the 17-18th of December. This is a critical opportunity to build momentum towards achieving the objectives of this new commitment and strengthen our collective response to refugee situations. In the Forum around 1200 people from 300 delegations are expected to attend the Forum, including Ministers, senior officials of the governments, NGOs representative and representatives of refugees. On 25 June 2019, the second preparatory of three meetings were held by UNHCR for the Forum, this meeting aimed to engage governments, and NGOs in a discussion on how to make the Forum more effective.

The GRF aims to encourage governments, UN agencies, NGOs, private sectors, local authorities, refugee groups and local communities to make useful and practical pledges and contributions for the benefit of refugee and the host communities over the coming four years.
The pledges being sought could include: financial, material and technical assistance; resettlement places and improved access to complimentary migration pathways and practical steps to enlarge refugee inclusion.

The Forum is focussing on six critical areas: education, jobs and livelihoods, arrangements for burden and responsibility- sharing, energy and infrastructure, solution and protection capacity. In the lead up of the Forum, UNHCR is encouraging States, NGOs and Refugees to be Co-Sponsors of the six key areas of focus to lead by examples exchange good practices or act as advocates.

Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRRN) is co-sponsoring the three of the six critical areas of GRF which include: education, protection capacity and solutions.

Within APRRN, the Youth Working Group (YWG) Chair Hayat Akbari is the focal point for education and is hoping to share the network expertise and Share information about needs, gaps, and challenges in the area of focus to encourage others to lend their support; and insure high level representation including meaningful refugee participation in the forum.

In July 2019, APRRN’s YWG along with other working group representatives had a bilateral meeting with Permission Mission of the Republic of Indonesia and Malaysia to the United Nations in Geneva where we raised the issues of access to primary, secondary and higher education and also APRRN’s engagement in this space.

In addition, APRRN members have had many engagements in areas like:
• Expansion of scholarships and loan schemes for university access
• Expansion of scholarship and loan schemes for technical and vocational education and training programmes
• Running Refugee Learning Centre


20-21 AUGUST 2019
The Centre for Research on Women and Gender (KANITA), Universiti Sains Malaysia, in collaboration with the Heriot Watt University, United Kingdom and the Penang Stop Human Trafficking Campaign (PSHTC) organised a stakeholder consultation for empowering refugees through digital inclusion at Penang, Malaysia.

The first day started with a panel on aspects on refugee rights, which gave an overview on refugee rights in Malaysia, right to education and linguistic minority rights. The first panellist was, Zahid , a Rohingya refugee working with PSHTC, which is an APRRN member. Zahid made a powerful statement which set the tone for the consultation, “We talk of inclusion but no rights means we are excluded”. He discussed how refugees are excluded from employment, health, education, purchasing SIM cards, and even advocacy activities relating to refugees.

The rest of the first day provided participants with an overview of a research on forced migration, use of digital devices and refugee empowerment conducted by Heriott Watt University and KANITA, and sharing of innovative practice in using digital media. Examples of innovative practice included Moving Languages, a mobile app for virtual learning for languages catered for refugees in Europe; BE My Protector, an app for reporting trafficking; CompetenSEA, a massive open online course (MOOC) on entrepreneurship for single mothers; and RECODE, training programme for refugees on coding and web programming. APRRN member, Fortify Rights, also presented their project on Rohingya media fellows, an initiative to train Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh to use photography and Instagram.

The second day started with a panel discussing on how to create more refugee inclusive spaces. Panellists discussed how their respective projects or organisations focuses on inclusion such as empowering and building capacity of refugees by ensuring they are involved in decision making and project delivery; using arts as a platform to teach English to children and provide a safe space for children to address emotional and social challenges; and building a school where the school and the community are not separate from each other. There was also a panel on refugee rights and ASEAN, which saw an underwhelming response from ASEAN towards progressing refugee rights in the region. Panellists agreed that ASEAN should play a stronger role in addressing refugee protection in the region, especially root causes of displacement by ASEAN member states. There was a suggestion for ASEAN to developing a common policy on refugees.

The event ended with a World Café format where participants rotated in groups to brainstorm on ideas for digital inclusion of refugees based on the themes of education, employment and enterprise, public awareness campaign, and heath.



From 22 August to 3 September 2019, APRRN members, secretariat staff and long-term supporters participated in the 2019 May 18 Academy in Gwangju, Korea. Specifically designed for international civil society activists working for human rights, democracy and peace, the 2019 Academy offered a unique blend of lectures, workshops and guided field trips.

Titled “Politics and Economy of Refugees” the course was attended by participants from Australia, Brazil, Bosnia and Herzegovina, India, Indonesia, Nepal, the Philippines, South Sudan, and Thailand. Each participant was able to share experiences from their local country contexts, providing a platform for solidarity and action amongst Asian activists. APRRN’s Programme Coordinator attended on behalf of the Secretariat. He was accompanied by APRRN’s Secretary General and past Chair Dr. Gopal Krishna Siwakoti who delivered guest lectures in their areas of expertise.

Launched in 2014, the May 18 Academy serves as a mechanism by which activists can more effectively contribute to the development of democracy and human rights throughout Asia. This is framed in relation to the 1980 Gwangju Uprising, by continuing the Uprising’s spirit of struggle to advance democracy and human rights across the world.

For more details about the May 18 Academy or the May 18 Foundation, please visit their website here.


‘Asean: Prioritise rights of Rohingya’
’Calls for protection of refugees’

’Bangladesh, rohingya: ong preoccupate dopo l’annuncio di 3.450 rimpatri’

’ Should Rohingya refugees return to Myanmar?’

‘5·18 기념재단 광주아시아포럼···‘학살과 난민’ (May 18 Memorial Foundation: Gwangju Asia Forum on Massacre and Refugees)

’Should Rohingya refugees return to Myanmar?’
’No country and no work: refugees despair at slow pace of Malaysia’s reforms’

’REFUGEE RIGHTS: ‘It’s about finding ways to make refugee voices stronger’

ระบบอภิบาลย้ายถิ่นระดับภูมิภาค ทางออกอาเซียนต่อปัญหาโรฮิงญา
Asean Eerily Silent on Uighurs

Montagnards: Persecuted in Vietnam, Living in Limbo in Thailand

’Malaysia’s Rohingya Refugees Forced to Work in Shadows’

For enquiries, please contact Rachel at

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