2021 was a challenging year for APRRN, its members, and all people living through forced displacement in the Asia Pacific region. The COVID-19 pandemic and attendant health risks and travel restrictions continued to force us to reimagine our work and respond to a rapidly changing landscape, including outbreaks of xenophobia, boat pushbacks, and opportunistic shrinking of the civil society space. In reality, 2021 brought new, more severe waves of infection to the region. In response, APRRN quickly re-organized, re-envisioning what was possible and reimagining how we could advocate for the protection of refugees across the Asia Pacific region and strengthen the capacity of advocates for refugee rights. Our responses included vigilantly monitoring and responding to protection challenges, advocating for the inclusion of refugees in all COVID-19 preparedness and response plans, supporting localization and refugee-led initiatives, and bridging local, regional, and global responses.
As a regional network, many of APRRN’s activities already took place virtually, so we were relatively well prepared to adapt to the new reality. In 2021, APRRN held its second virtual Advocacy Course—receiving the largest number of applications in its history—thus strengthening the capacity of advocates throughout the region, while also engaging in joint advocacy. Participants were among the most diverse of Advocacy Courses APRRN has organized: of the 30 participants, half had the lived experience of forced displacement. Shared learning spaces including refugees and humanitarian professionals on an equal footing provided new opportunities for exchange.
The eighth Asia Pacific Consultation on Refugee Rights was held entirely virtually in June 2021. This allowed for the equal engagement of all members, regardless of travel documents and restrictions that often serve to limit refugee participation. As well as the General Assembly, APRRN held thematic discussions on ‘The Role of APRRN during the Crisis in Myanmar and Displacement’ ‘Realising Meaningful Refugee Participation in APRRN’ and ‘Exchange of Ideas and Suggestions Toward Well-Functioning Working Groups’the functioning of working groups. New elections returned a diverse Steering Committee with APRRN’s new Chair, Hafsar Tameesuddin, and Deputy Chair, Siatarah Mohammadi, and other working group leadership having the lived experience of forced displacement.
APRRN continued its engagement in Thailand with the National Screening Mechanism (NSM), a new national law governing the treatment of refugees entering Thailand. While the development of the law is encouraging, especially because Thailand is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol, concerns remain as to how the law will be implemented and whether all foreign nationals will have access to its protections. In the second half of 2021, the first draft of the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) was developed but has not yet been finalized; much will depend on them. APRRN conducted a study of the NSM (from November 2020 through August 2021) to better understand the existing situation and to develop a methodology to monitor and document the changes that occur once the NSM is enforced. The study was conducted as a situation analysis (initial explorative analysis), with engagement from refugees, government authorities, and other stakeholders. The report will also form the foundation of APRRN’s continuing engagement in 2022.
Full report here