The Fifth Asia Dialogue on Forced Migration meeting meeting took place on 10-12 September 2017 in Manila, the Philippines, as the humanitarian and security crisis unfolded in Myanmar and Bangladesh.
ADFM members intended to consolidate progress with the Bali Process and ASEAN on the region’s capacity to respond to mass displacement. Given the situation in Myanmar and Bangladesh, it was clear those discussions could not occur in the abstract. Information supplied to the ADFM at the time of our meeting confirmed that approximately 300,000 people had crossed the border into Bangladesh from Myanmar since conflict broke out in Rakhine State on 25 August.
There was strong consensus that the new Bali Process emergency response mechanism should be triggered in response to the situation. The ADFM wrote to the Bali Process Co-Chairs to convey this view formally. Triggering the mechanism could achieve several important objectives. First and foremost, it would ensure there is an ‘honest broker’ with existing authority and legitimacy to share information and coordinate policy responses in the region.
ADFM members also urged ASEAN to work to de-escalate the situation in Myanmar and Bangladesh and to be part of a collective and coordinated response.
The ADFM continued to advance proposals to address trafficking in persons in the region. The ASEAN Convention on Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (ACTIP), which entered into force in March 2017, is among the most significant legal instruments that the ASEAN Summit has agreed to.
The Bohol Work Plan, developed to drive the implementation of ACTIP, is the first ever ASEAN cross-sectoral work plan of its kind and is a comprehensive and innovative approach to trafficking in persons. The ADFM made recommendations to the ASEAN Ministers’ Meeting on Transnational Crime (AMMTC), who met in Manila in the week following the ADFM, on the development of an implementation mechanism for the ACTIP and collaboration between ASEAN and the Bali Process senior officials on these issues.
We continued to enjoy strong attendance from past ADFM participants in Manila. Meeting in the Philippines during their time as ASEAN Chair and during the ASEAN 50th anniversary celebrations, allowed us to expand ADFM participation to include ASEAN senior officials. The ADFM Secretariat are very grateful for the support of Director Leocadio Trovela and his team at the Philippines Department of the Interior and Local Government.
In addition to our substantive discussions on effective responses by the Bali Process and ASEAN to forced migration issues, ADFM members endorsed further research and policy development on climate-related displacement and employment opportunities for refugees. Members also agreed the ADFM’s contribution to consultations for the global compacts on migrants and refugees.
Australia and Indonesia, the Co-Chairs of the Bali Process on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime, have been asked by regional experts to fulfil a promise made after the 2015 Andaman Sea crisis by responding quickly to the refugee crisis in Myanmar and Bangladesh.
The Asia Dialogue on Forced Migration (ADFM), an expert group recognised by the Bali Process for its independent policy advice, told senior officials following its meeting in Manila this week that the conditions for triggering the Consultation Mechanism established by ministers after the 2015 crisis have been met.
“The ADFM’s strong view is that the Bali Process Consultation Mechanism must be activated”, said Tri Nuke Pudjiastuti, of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, one of the four convening organisations of the ADFM.
“Retno Marsudi and Julie Bishop, Indonesian and Australian Foreign Ministers and Bali Process Co-Chairs, convinced fellow ministers to institute vital reforms in March 2016 so that the failure of the Bali Process to act during the 2015 Andaman Sea crisis would not happen again. Those reforms should now be put to work.”
“In addition to the Co-Chairs triggering the Consultation Mechanism, Indonesia should continue to encourage a single ASEAN position on the crisis. So too Australia with other Bali Process members.”
In March 2016, Bali Process ministers pledged more agile and timely responses to urgent irregular migration. They created a Consultation Mechanism for fast communication and coordination in emergency situations. Senior officials reviewed the 2015 Andaman Sea crisis and agreed to more reforms in November 2016.
“Activating the Consultation Mechanism could achieve several objectives”, said Steve Wong, of the Institute of Strategic and International Studies Malaysia. “First and foremost, it would ensure there is an honest broker with authority and legitimacy to share information and coordinate policy responses in the region.”
“How this crisis unfolds from here is predictable”, said Sriprapha Petcharamesree, from the Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies at Mahidol University, Thailand.
“Bali Process senior officials should explore responses to potential scenarios, including ongoing conflict in Rakhine State, further assistance required by Bangladesh authorities and international agencies, onward maritime movements, exploitation by people smuggling and human trafficking networks, Myanmar’s willingness to allow people to return, and resettlement options for those people permanently displaced.”
“It’s time for Australia and Indonesia to deliver on the promise they made as Co-Chairs of the Bali Process in March 2016”, said Travers McLeod, CEO of the Centre for Policy Development.
“Stepping up could make a huge difference to the region’s most vulnerable people and give other regional structures like ASEAN confidence to take appropriate action. Failure to act risks undermining the credibility of the Bali Process and would be inconsistent with important progress made over the past 18 months.”
“With more than 400,000 people estimated to have fled Myanmar for Bangladesh since violence broke out in Rakhine State on 25 August, this is an historic opportunity for the Bali Process to demonstrate its value and the benefits of cooperative problem solving in the region.”
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