Second Asia Dialogue on Forced Migration meeting




The Second Asia Dialogue on Forced Migration meeting was held in Bangkok on 28-30 January 2016.

The Dialogue was hosted in Thailand by Mahidol University’s Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies (IHRP), and enjoyed the support of Dr Surin Pitsuwan, former Secretary General of ASEAN, and Dr Hassan Wirajuda, former Foreign Minister of Indonesia, who both addressed Dialogue members and urged us to continue pursuing solutions in this important area.

Objectives and discussion from the Second Asia Dialogue on Forced Migration meeting

We hoped to build on the trust, creativity and intent we had established in our first meeting, while welcoming in a strong and diverse group of new Dialogue members. New members included David Irvine (former Australian Director General of Security), Bhornchart Bunnag (former Deputy Secretary General of the National Security Council, Thailand), Muhd Khair Razman bin Mohamed Annuar (Principal Private Secretary to Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister) and Janet Lim (Former UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Operations). We believe the group demonstrated great dynamism and good will with an excellent cross section and depth of perspectives from the region. 

The second Dialogue meeting focussed on better long-term preparedness for mass forced displacement in the region, including the national capacities, policies, standards and regional structures needed to respond better to all forms of forced migration now, and into the future.

Dialogue members considered the case study of Rohingya out-flows in the region to understand lessons and possible improvements. Options for more active and resilient regional architecture to respond to current and future population movements were canvassed. The strong links between forced migration and smuggling, trafficking and transnational crime were also discussed.

Asia Dialogue of Forced Migration speakers – Surin Pitsuwan (former Secretary General of ASEAN), Dr Sansanee C. Chaiyaroj (Mahidol University), Travers McLeod (CEO CPD), and Hassan Wirajuda (former Indonesia Foreign Minister)

Dialogue recommendations and outcomes

Timed to come immediately before the Bali Process Ad Hoc Group Senior Officials meeting (in Bangkok on 2 February 2016), the second Dialogue meeting made recommendations to the upcoming Bali Process Ministerial Meeting (scheduled for March 2016).

These recommendations were presented in a letter on 31 January 2016 from the Dialogue to the Co-Chairs of the Bali Process Ad Hoc Group Senior Officials meeting in the following terms:

The purpose of this letter is to submit the Dialogue’s recommendations for the upcoming Bali Process Ministerial Meeting. We urge you and your colleagues attending the AHG SOM for the Bali Process to give them full consideration.


The Dialogue is an emerging regional forum for independent and inclusive policy development on forced migration. Our objective is to support the development of a more effective, durable and dignified approach to forced migration. We comprise individuals from government, non-government organisations, policy and academic institutions, and international organisations from within and beyond the region, acting in their personal capacities.

Forced migration around the world is a persistent and increasing global phenomenon that unless properly managed will have permanent and intensifying negative impacts on countries in our region. A collective, coordinated response to challenges associated with both sudden and ongoing episodes of displacement, regardless of cause, is vital to ensure continued regional security, harmony and prosperity.

The Dialogue believes the Bali Process can and must play an important role in ensuring more effective and predictable responses to regional displacement events. Forced migration, if not properly and consistently addressed, contributes directly to smuggling, trafficking and transnational crime.

Just as individual members of the Bali Process plan for natural disasters, so too should the Bali Process plan for sudden and ongoing displacement of people. A strong and flexible regional architecture for dealing with current and future episodes of displacement is urgently required. 


The Dialogue recommends the Bali Process Ministerial Meeting authorise senior officials to:

(a) review the response to the 2015 Andaman Sea situation, the resulting caseload, and ongoing maritime movements there and in the Bay of Bengal, within the commitments and principles outlined in the Regional Cooperation Framework (‘RCF’), to share those lessons among Bali Process members and work to implement necessary improvements; and

(b) take a broader focus and, drawing on the RCF, make any recommendations necessary to improve national and regional contingency planning and preparedness to enable more predictable and effective responses on forced migration, utilising existing capacity such as in ASEAN, IOM, UNHCR and civil society. Recommendations should reflect the principles that effective policy responses require shared responsibility and distributed capacities.

The Dialogue offers to support the Bali Process in these endeavours to develop a more effective regional architecture over time.

These recommendations are made with a view to upcoming fora relevant to the Bali Process, including the UN High-Level meeting on ways to address large movements of refugees and migrants on 19 September 2016. 

The Bali Process Ad Hoc Group Senior Officials responded positively to the recommendations made by the Dialogue at their meeting in Bangkok on 2 February, agreeing to submit them to Ministers next month in Bali. The Co-Chairs’ of the Ad Hoc Group Senior Officials released a statement following their meeting, and referred directly to the Dialogue in paragraph [12]:

The Meeting welcomed an update from the Co-Chairs on the recent meeting of the Track II Dialogue on Forced Migration, held in Bangkok on 29-30 January 2016, and noted recommendations sent by the Dialogue conveners to the Bali Process Co-Chairs. Members agreed to recommend to Bali Process Ministers that officials be tasked to conduct a review of the regional response to last year’s irregular migration events in the Andaman Sea, and share the lessons among Bali Process members. It will also identify recommendations to improve national and regional contingency planning and preparedness to enable more predictable and effective responses on forced migration. Members reaffirmed the importance of engagement with the Track II Dialogue and other civil society, and agreed that the Co-Chairs continue such efforts to engage with key civil society stakeholders.

The recommendations from the Asia Dialogue on Forced Migration were adopted by the Bali Process Minister at the Ministerial Meeting, held in late March, and were picked up in both the Ministerial Declaration and the Co-Chairs’ Statement.

There will now be a formal review by the Bali Process of the Andaman Sea crisis of 2015 to draw lessons learned and work to implement necessary improvements, including to contingency planning and preparedness. This was the second decision and recommendation in the Co-Chairs’ Statement. Equally as important, a new mechanism has been created which authorises senior official to consult and convene meetings with affected and interested countries in response to irregular migration issues or future emergency situations. This was the fifth decision and recommendation in the Co-Chairs’ Statement and supplies the capability for key countries to be proactive on these issues, including by being able to take preventative action.

Both the Declaration and the Co-Chairs’ statement noted the growing scale and complexity of irregular migration in the region and the tragic loss of life and exploitation involved. This was evident in the text of the Declaration and Co-Chairs’ Statement, some of which referred to protection for refugees and asylum seekers. In the Co-Chairs’ Statement from the Senior Official Meeting, held the day before the Ministerial Meeting, senior officials welcomed inputs from the Dialogue, and endorsed and supported Dialogue recommendations.

The Asia Dialogue on Forced Migration hopes to support the Bali Process in its endeavours to develop a more effective regional architecture over time. We will continue our work to ensure Bali Process announcements translate into effective, dignified and durable regional and national approaches to forced migration. We intend to develop stronger links to other regional forums and processes, including ASEAN, over the course of the Dialogue.

Government and non-government Dialogue members universally showed strong commitment to the overall process and maintaining involvement. The next two meetings will be held in Malaysia in September 2016 and Indonesia in early 2017.

We are pleased to say the Dialogue is already providing a flexible, sustainable and credible platform for regional cooperation and for influencing government policy.

Second Asia Dialogue on Forced Migration meeting
John Menadue (CPD Fellow), Alice Nah (University of York) and Andy Rachmianto (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Indonesia)


Distinguished Participants, Ladies and Gentlemen.

First of all, allow me to express my appreciation to the Centre for Policy and Development (CPD) for inviting me to this Dialogue.

I am privileged to join distinguished experts on this important subject to discuss the best ways to deal with the issue of irregular migration in the region.

Migration as a Global Phenomenon

I have learnt from our discussion this morning about the current phenomena of migration in our region.

Almost all participants here will agree that migration is not a new phenomenon. It has been indispensible to our histories, where people have moved form one place to another in search of new opportunities, which could have been forced by war and conflict, poverty, natural disasters or environmental degradation.

Throughout the years, migration has played a significant role in shaping the current political situation. Nowadays, in the Age of Migration, we have witnessed that this issue has gained political salience and derailed from its pure migration purposes in the past decades.

In Europe, for example, where political polarization has been increasing on the issue of anti-immigration, anti-Islamic migrants and xenophobia that has resulted in the rise of extreme right wing groups and social tensions. This has also brought right wing political parties to power in recent elections. It may also become a sensitive bilateral issue, for example our migrant workers issue in Malaysia that triggered negative sentiment among our domestic constituent toward Malaysia a couple of years ago.

Indeed, migration is now truly a global issue. According to the United Nations Population Fund, in 2013, the number of international migrants worldwide reached 232 million, up from 175 million in 2000 and I am certain that the number is increasing.

Since the Arab Spring spread in the Middle East and North Africa in 2011, the region was devastated by war and conflict, which forced millions of people to leave their homes as refugees or political migrant as well as economic migrants. The military conflict or proxy war in Syria has also displaced millions of people internally, plus some six million of those who have become refugees in its neighboring countries. As the proxy war continues to rage in Yemen and the Libyan internal conflict is not in Libyan far from settled, we can only guess how many more millions of people displaced by these wars will join the growing number of the world refugee population.

The Asia Pacific region is no exception to this global trend. Some internal conflicts within the region such as Rohingyas in Myanmar; or even the wars in the nearest region, for instance, in Afghanistan and Iraq have also contributed to the flows of regular and irregular migrants in the Asia Pacific region.

In the context of migration flows in Asia Pacific region, Australia and New Zealand are the two countries that are traditionally migrant receiving countries in the region.

Countries in East Asia, on the other hand, generally are not receiving countries. Japan has recently increased their intake of refugees significantly by more than 50%. From 11 to 17 refugees. To illustrate this, according to Japan Today, from a record 5000 applicants in 2014, only 11 refugees were accepted.

This shows why immigration is not high on the agenda of countries in this region.

However, in the last decade, as a number of countries have successfully promoted their economic development, including industrialization, more and more countries in the region are becoming receiving countries, such as Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan and South Korea. These countries are now opening their doors to temporary economic migrants to fulfill their needs of both skill and unskilled workers. On the other hand, there are countries in the region, such as Indonesia, the Philippines, Bangladesh, that hold status as sending countries.

In our case, traditionally Indonesia is not a migrant country, in the sense of both receiving and sending. We have an old saying that goes “Rain of stone at home is better than rain of gold abroad”. But due to the East Asian monetary crisis that struck us in 1997-1998, Indonesia changed that value.

The crisis doubled the number of people who live under the poverty line and unemployed. Since then, we began our experience as a sending country, where almost 5 million skilled and unskilled Indonesians went abroad as economic migrants to pursue the promise of “rain of gold abroad”, or seek better economic opportunities abroad within the region, for example in Malaysia, Hong Kong and Taiwan. The majority of them is low and unskilled labor or became domestic servants.

With millions of workers abroad, it is no wonder that migration has become an important public issue. Being a sending country, the issue of protection of Indonesian domestic workers abroad, particularly in receiving countries with minimum or zero protection of foreign workers, has attracted serious attention from our government and public.

Therefore, protection of Indonesian nationals has become one out of four foreign policy priority agendas of President Jokowi.

Within ASEAN, Indonesia and the Philippines have encouraged other ASEAN countries to ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families. It also brought us to the adoption of the ASEAN Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers in 2007.

However, the ambitious agenda of drafting a legally binding ASEAN instrument on the Protection and Promotion of the rights of migrant workers has been unsuccessful to this day. I believe this is mainly because ASEAN comprises of both receiving and sending countries, which each has different views on the
degree protection toward migrants.

Bali Process

Beyond protection of migrant workers, international migration issues have not been an important agenda in the Asia Pacific region. Migration became an agenda for the first time in the region, due to increasing influx of refugees, asylum seekers and economic migrants to the region from Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, and Somalia, migrating in particular to Australia as a destination country.

Almost 12 years ago, this issue became a very sensitive issue in the context of Australian domestic politic. During Australia’s Federal Election in 2001, the issue became exploited and Indonesia was blamed for not providing sufficient actions to stop the flows of refugees, asylum seekers and economic migrants to enter Australia. In other words, it disturbed our bilateral relations.

I should admit that despite the fact that Indonesia was like Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore, a transit country for the migrant flows to Australia at that time, and of course until today, Indonesia actually was a victim of Australia’s attractiveness as a destination country as well as the victim of the systematic crimes committed by human trafficker and smugglers.

Therefore, at that time, I believed that comprehensively solving this serious problem was a necessity. That was also the main reason why we initiated the Bali Process on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime.

Certainly the issue was not a bilateral one. The efforts to find its solution must involve countries of origin, transit and destination, with Indonesia and Australia as the co-chairs.

From a historical point, I believe that the decision was the most reasonable approach, which helped all affected countries in the region in finding the solution and addressing the issue, and at the same time helped stabilize the bilateral relations between Indonesia and Australia.

Recent Development

While the coverage of the cooperation initially only covered people smuggling and trafficking in persons, the works of Bali Process have been very limited and shown slow progress.

Over the last decade, there were outflows of Rohingya in the region, the last one was in May last year, who landed in Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia. But Bali Process unfortunately did not cover the issue. In fact  last year, the Bali Process did nothing to respond to the issue of Rohingya, because of the different degree of interest, including the Co-Chairs of the Bali Process.

It illustrates that Rohingya migrants were not within the purview of the Bali Process, and in fact, a series of ad-hoc meetings were initiated by Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia, outside the framework of the Bali process.

[Human/Labor Trafficking]

Another important issue outside the refugee and asylum seeker issue is labor trafficking, where thousands of economic migrants have become victims in modern slavery.

Last year, Indonesian authority in cooperation with IOM, uncovered the practice of modern slavery in remote island of Benjina, where around 1000 fishermen from Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos experienced brutal working conditions, including forced confinement, forced labor, non-payment of salaries, excessive working hours, and severe psychological and physical abuse amounting to torture.

Our national authority has also revealed the close linkage of those activities to the illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU Fishing) practice within our waters. We believe that there are still many unknown nationals from the region who are working in foreign fishing boats who also have become victims of human traffickers. In my view, this is an important issue for the region to deal with it.

As migration is not an important public policy issue in the region, I think it is timely for countries in the region to deal with the issue of human trafficking seriously.

We need to strengthen the political will of countries in the region as well as reinvigorate the existing process in ASEAN that is specifically related to migrant workers and enhance engagement with ASEAN dialogue partners.

As well, we do not need to reinvent the wheel. We need to strengthen the available process and mechanism, such as the Bali Process, and ASEAN mechanism process and procedures on migration. A major handicap would be the lack of habits among countries in the region to work rigorously on political and security issues, as they do on economic cooperation dimension in the overall community building process in the region.

[Strong Regional Mechanism]

As I mentioned earlier, since early 2000, we have experienced the outflow of asylum seekers from Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq as political refugees or economic migrants. During their journey to the destination countries, they have transited in Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia.

The latest wave of refugees from those war-torn countries were the Syrian, Iraqis and Afghans who chose to enter Europe, mainly for reasons such as better economic opportunity and a more peaceful life. Not to mention more than six millions of Syrian refugees who are now sheltered in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, which are geographically close to Europe. But in the era of cheap transportation, distance does not matter.

While economies of East Asian countries continue to grow and East Asia is becoming a world economic powerhouse, it should be expected that in the near future, East Asia could potentially become an attractive destination region. Another thing that this region may learn from the experience of Europe is that in a way, we can prevent the influx millions of migrants in an orderly process. The European Union has developed quite a formidable “Fortress of Europe” under the Schengen Treaty.

This treaty allows free movement of people, namely European Citizens within the EU boundaries and at the same time through the “Fortress of Europe”, EU strictly controlled influx of people, both for regular and irregular movement. The “Fortress of Europe” collapsed in view of the growing pressure from millions of people from its Eastern and Southern flanks. From its Eastern flanks, more than one million Syrian and Iraqi refugees have entered Europe via Greece and the Balkans. And from the Southern Flanks, mainly through Libya and Morocco.

Interestingly, those people have moved from war-torn countries, in which the European themselves were partly responsible for escalating a number of conflicts and wars.

Recently the East Asia region has experienced the outflows of Rohingya migrants from the Rakhine province of Myanmar, which is relatively small, and yet the region was not ready to cope with it in an orderly fashion.

Earlier, following the end of the Vietnam war, several countries namely Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines who were flooded with the influx of hundreds and thousands of refugees and economic migrants from Vietnam and Cambodia, which were unprecedented. But thanks to the international cooperation involving countries of destination, countries of transit and countries origin and the full support of the UNHCR, the operation went very well, although it took at least 10 years to finalize. Of course then the region enjoyed a strong support from the US and its western allies to deal with their horrible legacy. We
cannot expect it now.

We must admit that the region then – some 25 years ago – were not well prepared and equipped to handle that large-scaled influx of migrants following the wars in Vietnam and Cambodia. Ironically, neither were we ready to cope with a much smaller flows of Rohingya migrants last year.

Lesson learned from our experience in the region is that there is a need to strengthen the capacity of public policy on migration and strengthen process of institution building.

On the other hand, the Asia-Pacific region should learn from the very recent experience of Europe, is that even the strongest system doesn’t guarantee that they are able to cope with this large-scale influx of migrants. In time of crisis last year, the well-developed EU institutions didn’t work. We can imagine how a region that does not have a system would find it possible to cope with a large-scale influx of migrants.

The Asia and Pacific region enjoys relatively peace and stability, but do not take it for granted within the region from what has happened in Europe. We need to anticipate that our region becomes destination region. Economic progress that being achieved by countries in our region can potentially turn our region as the next migration destination both from inside and outside the region. Singapore and Malaysia are a good example in this point.

That is one reason why there is a need to build a regional institution that focused on regional migration.

At international level we have witnessed proliferation of international forums or organizations dealing with international migration issues. Beside UNHCR and IOM, we now have The Inter-governmental Asia-Pacific Consultations on Refugees, Displaced Persons and Migrants (APC); International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD); The Intergovernmental Consultations on Migration, Asylum and Refugees (IGC); as well as ICRC, Human Rights Council, UNODC, Interpol, ILO within their respective roles and mandates. Each dealing with specific element related to migrant issue, but it seems to me there is lack of coordination and synergy among those institutions.

In the absence of an effective global governance on migration issue, in this age of migration, the region will depend solely on its ability to create its own regional order on migration.

That is one reason why there is a need to build a regional institution that focuses on international migrant.

Finally, I wish this dialogue could consider the adoption of modern slavery as a crime against humanity. When thousand of people are made against their will, exploited, degraded their human dignity, forced and tricked by traffickers and employers in systematic manners, these are the elements and within the definition of crime against humanity.

At the same note, I believe we can support the view conveyed by Pope Francis, following his meeting with world religious leaders in Vatican last year that the trafficking is a crime against humanity.

This would enhance awareness of governments, civil society and media as well as promote commitment of governments including law enforcement officials and other stakeholders to work together to eliminate the abhorrent practice of human trafficking.
Thank you.