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Advancing refugee protection and rights in Southeast Asia through legal empowerment

On a daily basis, most of Asia’s 3.5 million refugees and asylum seekers face exclusion and structural barriers — such as 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 mobilizing 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 Indonesia and Thailand. In Thailand, Asylum Access led civil society efforts to advocate for a 2019 law that protects refugees from detention and deportation. In 2016, presidential decree (perpres) was passed in Indonesia that regulates the status of refugees through coordination between the government and UNHCR.

This project will examine how legal empowerment can ensure that the emerging protections in Indonesia and Thailand 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 impacts of ongoing legal empowerment strategies of Asylum Access Thailand and the Refugee and Asylum Seekers Information Centre in Indonesia; pilot new ones; and foster comparative analysis and exchanges between research participants in Thailand and Indonesia. Comparative analysis of experiences in those countries will be complemented by desk-based secondary research in Malaysia.

This project was selected for funding through a competitive call for proposals called 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, eastern and southern Africa and Southeast Asia, and include a regional hub for each of those sub-regions. An existing partner, Namati, will play the role of global knowledge translation hub.

Project ID
Project Status
36 months
IDRC Officer
Kundan Mishra
Total Funding
CA$ 801,500.00
Democratic and Inclusive Governance
Institution Country
United States
Asylum Access