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Iraqi and Sudanese applications grow, but Malaysia dominates UNHCR RSD

June 29, 2005

UNHCR’s RSD operations continue to be focused in two broad regions: South and Southeast Asia, and the Middle East and North Africa.

As RSDWatch noted earlier this year, the Middle East was for several years the major home of UN status determination operations. From 1999 to 2002, Middle East had accounted for nearly half of the applications made to UNHCR. But in 2003, south and southeast Asian countries shot ahead, reversing a global decline in UNHCR RSD. In 2002 and 2003, individual refugee applications to UNHCR offices in Asia increased from fewer then 10,000 to nearly 30,000.

Newly published statistics show that in 2004 UNHCR RSD increased again in the Middle East, while holding steady in Asia. Combined with steady growth in Africa, these increases produced a significant global increase in the size of UNHCR RSD operations.

The number of new applications in the Middle East jumped from about 14,600 to 26,000. If Turkey, which received almost 4,000 applications in 2004, were counted with the Middle East, the Asia and the Middle East regions would be nearly equal. (RSDWatch counts Turkey as an Eastern European state.)

UNHCR RSD in Asia is increasingly focused in just one country: Malaysia. Malaysia has been by far UNHCR’s largest RSD operation in the world the past two years, receiving more than 20,000 applications in 2004, an increase of 11 percent from the previous year. The asylum-seekers there mainly come from Indonesia and Myanmar (Burma). The only other Asian countries to receive more than a thousand applications last year were Pakistan (3,100) and Thailand (2,400), where the number of new asylum-seekers actually declined by more than a third since 2003.

So, while UNHCR RSD is common in south and southeast Asia (there are RSD operations in at least 10 countries), without Malaysia the number of actual Asia cases is relatively small and declining. In the Middle East, large UNHCR RSD operations are widespread across the region.

The list of UNHCR’s 10 largest RSD offices in 2004 includes 4 in the Middle East (plus Turkey), 3 in Asia and 2 in Africa. Four Middle Eastern UNHCR offices received more than a thousand applications in 2004: Egypt 10,700 applications up 60% Jordan 6,300 applications up 78% Syria 5,200 applications up 218% Yemen 1,500 applications up 27% UNHCR’s office in Israel, which shares RSD decision-making with the government (and hence is not counted in RSDWatch’s statistics) received about 1000 applications in 2004; UNHCR in Libya received more than 700 applications while UNHCR’s Beirut office received more than 550. UNHCR also performs RSD throughout the Persian Gulf region. Middle Eastern growth in 2004 is important beyond concerns about UNHCR’s RSD procedures.

The vast majority of Middle Eastern asylum-seekers are Sudanese and Iraqi. Applications from both nationalities rose substantially in 2004 in the Middle East. Despite the peace process in South Sudan and the fall of the Ba’ath regime in Iraq, more asylum-seekers appear to be flowing out to neighboring countries.

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