Tenth Asia Dialogue on Forced Migration meeting




On 6 May 2021 the Tenth Asia Dialogue on Forced Migration meeting convened virtually. The meeting took place over two hours and involved participants based in eight countries, stretching from New Delhi to New York. All participants attend in a personal capacity and discussions take place under the Chatham House Rule. This virtual meeting followed the ADFM’s ninth meeting in Dhaka in February 2020, where the Secretariat also returned to Cox’s Bazar to follow up on the Trafficking risk assessment conducted there in 2018-19.

Tenth Asia Dialogue on Forced Migration meeting

The meeting was held amid a deteriorating situation for forced migration in the Indo Pacific. The unfolding crisis in Myanmar, the continued displacement of the Rohingya in Bangladesh and stalemate in progress toward safe, dignified, voluntary repatriation, the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, and threats to peace and stability in countries across the region combine to make sudden displacement more likely.

These challenges were outlined in a discussion paper prepared by the ADFM Secretariat ahead of the meeting. The purpose of the paper is to be an up to date resource to assist governments in the region in choosing where to concentrate their efforts. It has been updated based on feedback and input from ADFM participants and experts.

Discussions from the the Tenth Asia Dialogue on Forced Migration meeting

The first part of the Tenth Asia Dialogue on Forced Migration meeting meeting focused on specific events, particularly political instability in Myanmar and the ongoing stalemate on repatriation for those Rohingya displaced on the Bangladesh border. While those working closely with the issues described the situation in grave terms, there are clear practical things that can be done. This includes pursuing mini-lateral and bilateral arrangements with interested parties and champion countries, strengthening humanitarian responses, providing protections for irregular migrants in place, conducting strategic research to inform policy and engaging with local actors and those most affected.

The role of existing institutions and the need to make the most of their mandates was discussed in the second part of the discussion. The role of ASEAN, particularly the appointment of a Special Envoy and the role of the AHA Centre, were also identified as having the potential to make a big difference. The upcoming twentieth anniversary of the Bali Process and associated events, were also identified as an opportunity for reviewing and rejuvenating this institution, potentially through a strategic assessment of future priorities.

Despite the gravity of the situation, we were pleased to see broad consensus on the challenges ahead and energy around the need to act and scale of the challenges we are facing in the region. The ADFM Secretariat will continue to advance proposals in close consultation with key partners, and will likely meet next towards the end of 2021.

The Co-Convenors of the Asia Dialogue on Forced Migration (ADFM) are gravely concerned about the forced migration risksfacing the Indo Pacific region and the lack of preparedness to deal with them.

“There is no time to waste”, said ADFM Co-Convenor Travers McLeod, CEO of the Centre for Policy Development, following the 10th ADFM meeting held virtually last month. “COVID-19 makes it even more important that countries across the region are better prepared to respond to sudden displacement and vulnerable populations already displaced are better protected. If critical challenges are not addressed we fear more innocent lives and livelihoods will be lost.”

The 10th ADFM meeting, held virtually last month, brought together current ambassadors, former foreign ministers, officials from governments, UN agencies and civil society leaders from nine countries. The ADFM is a Track II dialogue where all participants attend in a personal capacity. It last convened in person in Dhaka following a visit to Cox’s Bazar in February 2020. The virtual May meeting was held amid a rapidly deteriorating forced migration situation in the Indo Pacific. A discussion paper identifying critical forced migration challenges was prepared for the meeting and is being made public by the ADFM Co-Convenors today.

“We have identified five strategic challenges that make sudden large-scale displacement events an acute risk, with associated risks of human trafficking, migrant smuggling and related exploitation,” said ADFM Co-Convenor Herizal Hazri, CEO of the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia. “Events in Myanmar, the continued stalemate around repatriation of the Rohingya in Bangladesh, the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, and ongoing threats to peace and stability in countries like Syria and Afghanistan combine to increase the likelihood of both new sudden displacement events, and ongoing displacement becoming protracted.”

“Dynamics common to each of these challenges are making it more difficult for countries across the region to respond effectively. There is a leadership deficit, an absence of accountability and responsibility, tension between national and regional interests, and an underutilisation of early warning systems and networks which already exist.”

“Although the situation is bleak, there are practical things that can be done now and it was pleasing to see among ADFM participants a genuine desire to move beyond business as usual and respond creatively and proactively.” said ADFM Co- Tri Nuke Pudjiastuti, of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI). “The region would benefit from champions on particular issues, new coalitions to support humanitarian responses, and existing institutions making a greater effort to fulfill their potential.”

“Several regional institutions have existing mandates to deal with issues of forced migration, but they are not making the most of these capabilities. The Bali Process Consultation Mechanism and Task Force on Planning & Preparedness are entities whose promise remains largely unrealised. The upcoming twentieth anniversary of the Bali Process and associated events is an opportunity for reviewing and rejuvenating this institution, in line with future strategic priorities.”

“ASEAN action is necessary but will be insufficient”,said ADFM Co-Convenor Sriprapha Petcharamesree, from the Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies at Mahidol University, Thailand. “The appointment of the Special Envoy to Myanmar can make a big difference, especially if the Envoy’s mandate includes addressing the Rohingya displacement and fosters collaboration within ASEAN (such as between the AHA Centre and AICHR) and with other institutions (such as the Bali Process, SAARC and BIMSTEC).”

“At no time in the six years since the ADFM was established have we seen developments as dire as those currently facing our region. That these circumstances are being faced during a global pandemic only amplifies both the challenge and the urgency.” ADFM Co-Convenors will now conduct further strategic research and advocacy on specific proposals raised at the meeting, working as appropriate with ADM participants, governments and institutions across the region.