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Asylum access, advancing refugee protection, and legal empowerment in Southeast Asia

Most of Asia’s 3.5 million refugees and asylum seekers face exclusion and structural barriers on a daily basis, including arbitrary detention, gender-based violence, economic exploitation, and limited access to justice, due to a lack of frameworks to provide legal status or basic human rights. In response to these challenges, legal empowerment offers a promising alternative to prevailing humanitarian and development approaches. Strategies like legal advice by refugee-trained paralegals and lawyers, group human-rights education, and community mobilization by refugee-led organizations have helped to build the leadership and empowerment of refugees and asylum seekers, especially women and other minorities.

These strategies have contributed to significant policy advocacy developments in Malaysia and Thailand. In Thailand, Asylum Access led civil society efforts to advocate for a 2019 law that protects refugees from detention and deportation. In early 2021, it secured a court order in Malaysia protecting Myanmar nationals from mass deportation without proper review.

This project will examine how legal empowerment can ensure that the emerging protections in Thailand and Malaysia are implemented in practice and can contribute to systemic changes to improve refugee rights, public accountability, and refugee and asylum-seeker empowerment and leadership. Three streams of participatory action research will document the impact of Asylum Access’ ongoing legal empowerment strategies, pilot new ones, and foster comparative analysis and exchanges between research participants in Thailand and Malaysia to identify recommendations and strategies for strengthening legal-empowerment efforts.

This project was selected for funding through a competitive call for proposals entitled “Closing the justice gap - a legal empowerment research and learning agenda”. The resulting cohort of projects will cover 12 country case studies in West Africa, East and Southern Africa, and Southeast Asia, and include a regional hub for each of those sub-regions.

Project ID
Project Status
36 months
IDRC Officer
Adrian Di Giovanni
Total Funding
CA$ 801,500.00
Democratic and Inclusive Governance