An examination of refugee protection attitudes in Southeast Asia
This thesis examines how Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand and Malaysia sought to articulate attitudes towards refugee protection during the Indochinese and Rohingya refugee crises. While countries in Southeast Asia are known to be reluctant to discuss and participate in refugee protection, preferring to follow the norm of non-interference encapsulated in the ‘ASEAN Way’ in recent years, over time, attitudes towards refugee protection have varied significantly. The thesis explores the internal and external pressures that have impacted on changing perceptions of refugee protection in Southeast Asia. To explore changes in refugee protection attitudes, I conduct a comparative case study between the Indochinese and Rohingya refugee crises, analysing the responses and the rationale justifying the level of refugee protection in Thailand and Malaysia. These two countries have employed a variety of arguments such as ethnicity, religion and economic costs of treaty accession to inform their practices of refugee protection. In addition, regional/international dynamics and the labelling of refugees have also affected the level of refugee protection as well. Overall, their selective engagement with international refugee law; ethnic considerations; regional influences and the securitisation of refugee crises contribute most to arguments as to why refugee protection attitudes in Southeast Asia have remained poor. My findings indicate that due to the overlapping nature of these factors, any examination of refugee protection attitudes cannot be answered adequately by a single explanation, be it the practice of non-interference or a non-ratification of the 1951 Refugee Convention. These attitudes are mostly influenced by internal pressures, with national and regional factors interacting in tandem to produce higher levels of insecurity for the refugees studied in this thesis. Ultimately, this thesis will demonstrate that while refugee protection attitudes in the two refugee crises were influenced by shifting notions of national security, race and regional dynamics, not much has changed in terms of the consequences for refugees.