Regional Dialogue Promotes Strengthened Cooperation on Migrant Protection in South-East Asia
Bangkok – South-East Asia remains one of the world’s fastest-growing migration hubs, with the number of migrants in the subregion doubling from 5.1 million in 2000 to 10.6 million in 2020. The demand for and supply of labour migration continues to rise, while the risk of displacement due to sudden-onset events is expected to increase in the coming years.
With intra-regional migrants accounting for two-thirds of the subregion’s total international migrant stock, the need for regional cooperation on migration management has grown more critical.
From 21 to 23 September, the Governments of Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand convened for a three-day, high-level regional dialogue to exchange experiences, best practices and challenges in promoting safe, orderly and regular migration and protecting migrants’ rights.
Jointly organized by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Thailand, the UN Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the International Detention Coalition (IDC), the dialogue comes at an opportune time as the three countries recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic – which saw heightened risk of exploitation among migrants, particularly smuggling and trafficking in persons.
Tens of thousands in the subregion found themselves in vulnerable situations, such as being victims of trafficking, placed in long-term detention or unable to return home safely after losing employment. In 2021, 62 per cent of vulnerable migrants assisted by IOM in Asia and the Pacific were identified as victims of trafficking, indicating the extreme risks that migrants in vulnerable situations face.
“It has been almost four years since the Global Compact for Migration (GCM) was adopted by the UN General Assembly, but more remains to be done to reduce irregular migration,” expressed Phuchphop Mongkolnavin, Deputy Director-General, Department of International Organizations, Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “More importantly, we have to work more to reduce the risks and vulnerabilities of migrants, particularly the most vulnerable, including women and children.”
Thirty-six participants from the three delegations identified priorities in migration cooperation, as more borders reopen. Priorities included strengthening access to protection services for migrants; reinforcing legal frameworks for counter-smuggling and trafficking; identifying pathways for dignified return and readmission; and implementing alternatives to immigration detention.
Furthermore, with recurring irregular migration trends within the region, the delegations discussed strategies for responding to the needs of stranded migrants, including in the context of rescue at sea.
“The Governments present today have made significant strides in enhancing the protection of migrants at such a critical time – for which they must be commended. This dialogue provides us with a space to identify progress and challenges,” said Stuart Simpson, IOM’s Deputy Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific.
On the final day, government delegations engaged in discussions to identify areas of cooperation and partnerships. The dialogue follows the national consultations on the findings of a desk review on Sustainable Solutions for the Management of Irregular Migration: Return, Readmission, Protection and Alternatives to Detention in the three countries.
The dialogue was made possible with financial support from the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, through the Asia Regional Migration Program, and the Bali Process Regional Support Office.
For more information, please contact: