Bali Process failed on Andaman Sea crisis

Bali Process failed on Andaman Sea crisis

BALI, March 23 When hundreds of refugees perished at sea in Southeast Asia last year, it seemed as if the region’s countries were hamstrung.

About 1800 trafficked men, women and children, many of them Rohingya fleeing persecution in Myanmar, were stranded on boats in the Andaman Sea and Bay of Bengal in May; hundreds perished at sea while governments dithered over what action to take.

But now Australia, Indonesia and the UN refugee agency UNCHCR hope a new declaration of the Bali Process will help bring countries together faster and initiate prompt action were such an event to happen again.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said the events last year showed up the region’s weaknesses.

The Bali Process, an international forum of 45 countries tackling people smuggling, trafficking and other transnational crime, had been unable to address the crisis.

“This must not happen again,” she said.

Ms Marsudi and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop announced that for the first time, the declaration would put in place a “mechanism” allowing members to come together quickly to respond if another similar situation were to arise.

“This was missing from the processes in 2015 and we were concerned that as the events of the Andaman Sea unfolded, there was no mechanism to bring the members together in a timely fashion. We believe this will give us that opportunity to do so,” Ms Bishop told reporters.

During the high-seas crisis last May, Amnesty International had called on regional governments – including Australia – to urgently step up their response in the face of the crisis.

Although Australia gave around $A1 million in aid, it did not assist with search and rescue operations, and would not resettle any of the Rohingya under its policy of not accepting refugees who registered with the UNHCR in Indonesia after July 1, 2014.

UNHCR assistant high commissioner for protection Volker Turk welcomed the declaration on Wednesday, telling AAP that he felt there was an “evolution” at the Bali Process to provide more longer-term strategies.

“We are very comforted by the fact that the (declaration) wording says ‘facilitate timely and proactive consultation’ to respond to emergency situations. That is quite a clear commitment.”

Ms Bishop also announced a new strategy at the conference to tackle migrant smuggling and human trafficking, which she described as a “shocking stain on the modern world”.

The International Labour Organisation estimates that as many as 20.9 million people worldwide are subject to forced labour, including sexual and domestic exploitation, with more than half of them in the Asia Pacific region.

The illicit trade generates around $US150 billion ($A197 billion) a year in profits.

Australia’s strategy, Ms Bishop said, would fight human trafficking in several ways, including by pushing for greater co-operation with law enforcement in the region to prevent, detect and prosecute such crimes.

Originally published as Bali Process failed on Andaman Sea crisis

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