E.g., 12/06/2023
E.g., 12/06/2023
Resolving Policy Conundrums: Enhancing Humanitarian Protection in Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia has a complex history of migration within and outside the region, linked to uneven economic development and income disparity, demographic and social change, urbanization, transnational and civil conflict, and persecution. Migration flows within the region are often driven by mixed motivations, and many such movements are unregulated or unauthorized. Countries within the region must often simultaneously contend with irregular labor migration, asylum and refugee flows, and populations at risk of displacement as a result of persecution, exclusion, or a limited ability to generate basic livelihoods.

The May 2015 humanitarian crisis stemming from irregular maritime flows of Rohingya (a persecuted minority in Myanmar) and Bengalis in the Bay of Bengal brought these issues into sharp focus. Long-term systematic persecution and interethnic violence in Myanmar (also known as Burma), and a lack of livelihood opportunities in Bangladesh (where many displaced Rohingya have fled) led to a surge in maritime migration to Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

This report examines the key features of migration in and through Southeast Asia and assesses the policy challenges and responses to the May 2015 maritime flows of Rohingya and Bengalis in the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea. The humanitarian crisis highlighted that the present array of policies and practices in Southeast Asia are not meeting the needs of policymakers, migrants, or the public—and fall short of balancing the need to prevent displacement and protect those who are displaced. The report concludes with a series of recommendations as policymakers recognize the further development of protection infrastructure must be a priority.

Table of Contents 

I. Introduction

II. Forced Migration in Southeast Asia and Policy Conundrums

III. Migration in Southeast Asia: An Overview

A. Asylum Flows and At-Risk Populations in the Region

B. The Regional Migration Policy Context

IV. Case Study: The May 2015 Humanitarian Crisis

A. Ongoing Displacement of the Rohingya People

B. The Maritime Humanitarian Crisis of May 2015

C. National, Subregional, Regional, and External Responses

D. Responses from Countries outside the Region

V. Looking Ahead: The Challenges of Building Protection Infrastructure in Southeast Asia

VI. Conclusions and Policy Implications

Considerations for the Future


Appendix A. Timeline of Responses to the May 2015 Maritime Humanitarian Crisis

Appendix B. Summary of Possible Policy Responses

Appendix C. Public Perceptions of Immigrants, Selected Southeast Asian Countries