We’ve heard many stories of struggling refugees as they live in a host country. But many refugees didn’t even make it to the country they seek asylum to.
When civilians seek asylum in other countries, they don’t jump straight into the unknown future at a new, foreign country. The absence of safe legal pathways for asylum seekers means that they have to pass dangerous illegal routes and use the service of smugglers. If the journey requires multiple border crossings, the risk automatically increases.
Most refugees who migrate across Southeast Asia usually have to use smugglers, which makes them more exposed to abuse and exploitation from the smugglers. In other words, they are much more in danger on the journey to the safe country (even if they’ve fled their homeland) than they are in the country they originally sought asylum to (even if the country doesn’t welcome them, such as Bangladesh towards Rohingya refugees).
In this story, a Rohingya refugee in Malaysia tells us about how cruel the smugglers were to the refugees. They let them suffer from dehydration and hunger, let alone providing a proper or safe journey, that some of them didn’t even survive the road. The smugglers would not allow refugees to go to the toilet and gave seawater for them to drink. They even physically abuse both men and women refugees.
Some refugees have to experience secondary to multiple movements, meaning that after they arrive in the original country they seek asylum to, they have to move again to another country (that is not facilitated by the UNHCR). This is usually due to the host country’s hostility and inadequate access to proper living, education and employment.
For example, the Rohingya refugees, who compose the majority of people moving within Southeast Asia, often have to make a secondary move. They usually cross the border to the nearest countries of Thailand and Bangladesh but due to negative push factors, they would feel compelled to move on to other countries.
Unfortunately, creating a safe pathway for refugees on their first migration requires a complicated diplomatic movement (meaning that countries need to be ready to receive asylum seekers from their neighbouring countries and provide for their journey, which many countries would refuse at the moment).
However, there is a less complicated way to prevent secondary movements. That is by providing adequate access to refugees, including education, health, employment and the ability to move freely within the country. Refugees need to be included in the national development plans, so both parties will benefit and contribute to each other.
For now, the UNHCR is working to encourage Southeast Asian countries (and other countries around the world) who are currently hosting refugees to create a framework that protects the refugees’ status. For example, the Philippines now grants the right for refugees to move freely and work legally to earn a living.