Asia Undercovered Special Edition: Refugees

On June 20, the world commemorated the strength, courage and resilience of millions of refugees who have been forced to flee their home country to escape conflict and persecution.

While most attention globally focused on refugees crisis in Europe or Central America, it’s a growing concern in Asia too. The region is estimated to have upwards of 3.5 million refugees, with the majority coming from Afghanistan and Myanmar. This number is likely to rise with more groups threatened by political and religious persecution, from Uyghurs fleeing human rights abuses in China, to Hong Kong activists increasingly in need of protection.

Now there’s also the threats of a global pandemic disproportionately impacting vulnerable communities with limited access to resources and healthcare. This issue, written by Daniela Muenzel, honors refugees by shedding light on undercovered stories of the challenges they face across the continent, while also sharing stories that showcase their strength and resilience.

The Pandemic and Refugees

The pandemic is having a huge adverse impact on refugee populations across Asia. Here are three important stories on Covid-19 and refugees.

Vilified as “Corona Bomb”, Rohingya refugees in India are battling Islamophobia and starvation, and are deliberately overlooked for healthcare and food support from the government (Tapan Kumar Bose, The Wire).

Also on India, Roshni Shanker and Shweta Malik write about the particular problems faced by refugee women in South India as they lack access to maternal and sexual healthcare – and offer a glimpse into a bigger problem of abuse (The News Minute).

The number of North Korean defectors living in Britain has grown exponentially in the last decade. However, as a majority work in gig jobs, the pandemic has hit hard, with many not able to get government subsidies (Eunjung Cho, Voice of America)

Refugees’ battles

Zahidullah Shohid and Abdullah Zubair, two Rohingya youth leaders who live in Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh, write about high expectations over faraway court decisions, and what justice really means to the people on the ground (Frontier Myanmar).

Battling deportation from Hong Kong: three decades after fleeing Vietnam, and after 22 years in prison spent learning skills and helping fellow refugees fill out paperwork in Hong Kong, But Vo is fighting for local resettlement as a free man (Su Xinqi, Hong Kong Free Press).

Tough decisions: Hong Kong protesters are seeking sanctuary overseas as China’s control tightens. Heidi Lee spoke to three asylum seekers in Canada awaiting decision for their asylum claim, and why they had to leave home (Hong Kong Free Press).

In Turkey, Uyghur refugee Ershat Abdul'ehed uses illustrations and videos to draw attention to the targeting and imprisonment of Uyghur people by Chinese authorities. Cut off entirely from his family, he talks about hopelessness and how he decided to become an activist. (Global Voices).

Solutions stories

Meanwhile, Omer Kanat, a Uyghur human rights advocate sees hope after last month’s passage by the US Congress of the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act. In this op-ed, Kanat urges other countries to follow the lead (Malaysiakini).

3,628 Vietnamese refugees were rescued at sea adrift in the South China Sea 45 years ago. Then a baby, now successful fashion designer Chieu-Anh Vu-Lieberman recently spoke to one of the rescue crew for the first time, with filmmaker Duc Nguyen documenting the daring mission (Joseph Lam, South China Morning Post)

Now living with her children as refugees in Kuala Lumpur, 33-year-old Heba who escaped Gaza in 2018, collaborates with PichaEats, a social enterprise which assists refugees to earn a living by serving their home countries' cuisines (Vincent Tan, Channel News Asia)


Asia Undercovered: Journalist Nithin Coca’s weekly roundup of the news, events, trends and people changing Asia, but not getting enough attention in the US media.