One year after the Andaman Sea refugee crisis – is the region better prepared?

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In May last year, the discovery of mass graves on the Thai-Malaysia border and stranding at sea of around 8,000 people fleeing Myanmar and Bangladesh cast the spotlight on the grave reality of forced migration in our region.

The regional response was sorely inadequate. Boats were intercepted by Thai, Malaysian and Indonesian authorities, and reportedly pushed back out to sea. Smugglers and traffickers abandoned boatloads of asylum seekers, many of whom were without food or water. Some were saved by local officials or fisherman, or swam to shore. 370 people are known to have died. After several weeks, a one-off meeting convened by the Thai Government finally helped to provide a stop-gap resolution for the immediate crisis – but only after the muted capacity of regional institutions and architecture to deal with displacement crises had been tragically exposed. 

One year on from the crisis, there are promising signs that the region has learned from its collective failure to act, and that it is building the processes and policy frameworks needed to improve regional responses to forced migration in the future. Significantly, the March 2016 meeting of Bali Process Ministers agreed to conduct a formal review of the Andaman Sea crisis, and to create a new regional response mechanism that allows senior officials to consult and convene meetings in response to irregular migration issues or future emergency situations. These reforms drew on ideas generated by the Asia Dialogue on Forced Migration.

This week, CPD and our regional co-conveners of the Asia Dialogue on Forced Migration are publishing a two-part series on the lessons of the Andaman Sea crisis and what they tell us about developing effective, durable and dignified approaches to forced migration in the future.

Part One: The Andaman Sea crisis a year on – what happened and how did the region respond? 

Part Two: The Andaman Sea refugee crisis a year on – is the region better prepared?

The third meeting of the Asia Dialogue on Forced Migration will be held in Kuala Lumpur in September 2016. Read more about the outcomes of the first two dialogue meetings and the objectives of the dialogue here: