India, China among 'worst' violators of refugee rights

Fighting in parts of Africa, Asia and the Middle East is increasing refugee numbers worldwide, the UNHCR said. IT reached a record 37 million last year. (Story: J.Le Masurier)


China, India, Malaysia, Thailand and Bangladesh have been identified as among the worst violators of refugees' rights in a global survey released ahead of Friday's World Refugees Day.

They joined Iraq, Kenya, Russia, Sudan and Europe as the 10 worst places for refugees last year, according to the World Refugee Survey 2008 released in Washington on Thursday.

The annual study, conducted by the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI), a non-governmental group, also showed the total number of refugees growing to 14 million at the end of 2007, the largest it has been since 2001.

Driving the growth again were Iraqi refugees, with more than 550,000 fleeing their country. In all, more than two million refugees from the insurgency-wracked nation are awaiting an end to violence in their homeland.

The worst places for refugees list was based on violators turning refugees away to face further persecution, violence, and possibly death, or letting them enter a country and subjecting them to deprivation and stultifying limbo, USCRI said.

"We've tried to call attention to these countries because they have been particularly egregious in their treatment of refugees," USCRI president Lavinia Limon said.

"Some of them have forced refugees back into dangerous situations, some of them have warehoused refugees in camps for decades, and some of them have done their best to make sure refugees never enter their territory. Some of them have done all of the above," she said.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has made refugee protection the theme of this year's events marking World Refugee Day.

In a report card, where countries are graded from A to F and that formed the basis for the USCRI worst violators' list, China, Malaysia and Thailand received an F grade following a study on forcibly returning refugees to their homes and physical protection of refugees.

Some of the North Korean refugees repatriated by China have reportedly been executed.

Malaysia forcibly sent refugees from Myanmar to Thailand, where "some of them were sold into slavery -- men to fishing boats and women to brothels," said Merrill Smith, USCRI director of international planning and analysis.

Thailand also forced refugees to return to Myanmar and Laos, he said.

Malaysia and Thailand also got an F grade together with Bangladesh and China in a study on conditions in which refugees were detained and provided access to courts.

In the category where freedom of movement of refugees was gauged, Thailand and Bangladesh received the worst grade. "Thailand confined about 140,000 refugees in special refugee camps where they are not allowed to leave -- mostly those from Myanmar and Laos," Smith said.

Malaysia, Bangladesh and Nepal also received the worst grade in a study on whether governments allowed refugees to earn a livelihood.

One of the reasons that India was listed as among the worst places for refugees was because of its "radically discriminatory treatment of refugees," said Smith.

"They treat refugees depending on their nationality -- at the better end of the spectrum would be the Tibetan refugees, they are treated the best. Sri Lankans not so well but worst of all would be the Chin ethnic group from Myanmar," he said.

Smith pointed out that treating refugees well did not mean that they would remain permanently in their host countries, citing Malaysia as an example.

He said that Malaysia in 2005 issued documents to refugees from neighboring Indonesia's Aceh province allowing them to work and move about freely following the tsunami disaster that devastated the province.

Of the 32,000 Acehnese who received those documents, only 6,000 remained in Malaysia as of this year while the others returned home, Smith said.

"The interesting part about that is that treating refugees well does not cause them to stay," he said.

Western nations were also criticized in the report, including the United States and the European Union which received grades of F and D, respectively, for their poor physical protection of refugees including the forced repatriation of some asylum-seekers.

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