UNHCR welcomes Ministerial Declaration in Bali, calls for new compact to absorb refugees in region
BALI, Indonesia - In a move welcomed by the UN Refugee Agency, Ministers of Bali Process countries today pledged to take a comprehensive regional approach to managing mixed migration flows by strengthening cooperation on search and rescue at sea, predictable disembarkation, temporary protection and legal pathways for refugees and migrants.
The Ministerial Declaration was adopted on Wednesday at the Sixth Ministerial Conference of the Bali Process. It is the first-ever such declaration in the 14-year history of this regional forum and a strong sign that its 45 member countries are deeply committed to addressing the regional challenges of mixed migration at a time of massive forced displacement around the world.
"With more than 60 million people forcibly displaced from countries like Syria, Afghanistan and Burundi, no country or region is immune from the
aspects, and combating smuggling and trafficking. This will only work, however, if it goes hand-in-hand with a clear and unequivocal human security impact," said Volker Türk, UNHCR's Assistant High Commissioner for Protection. "Today's pledge is a timely reminder that predictable and equitable responsibility-sharing arrangements are the only way to tackle these challenges while seizing opportunities."
He welcomed the Ministers' acknowledgement that responses must be holistic and protection-sensitive: "They need to cover border control, security, and indeed, protection of people dimension, including for refugees."
Putting things in perspective, the Assistant High Commissioner noted that the Asia-Pacific region hosts fewer refugees compared to elsewhere in the world, and that solutions are in sight with a new government in Myanmar, where many of the region's refugees originate.
"We hope that a tripartite agreement involving Thailand, Myanmar, and UNHCR will eventually pave the way for the voluntary repatriation of the Myanmar refugees along the Thai/Myanmar border," said Türk. "We also hope that the situation in Rakhine State will be stabilized satisfactorily for all residents on its territory, not least in an effort to address some of the drivers and root causes of displacement."
UNHCR recommends steps to recognize an appropriate legal status for all residents in Rakhine State, to promote civil registration and access to identity documents, and to remove restrictions on basic freedoms facilitating access to livelihoods. The UN and a number of countries are proposing a development-centred approach benefitting all populations, guided by the Sustainable Development Goals that emphasize development by leaving no one behind.
In the meantime however, voluntary return is not an option for refugees involved in maritime movements from the Bay of Bengal. Echoing the Ministerial Declaration, Türk urged host countries to pursue temporary stay arrangements that promote access to health care, education and the labour market. This would not only stabilize the lives of individuals and reduce onward movements, but also prepare people for eventual return when conditions are conducive.
To support such efforts, the Assistant High Commissioner pointed to encouraging indications from host governments exploring joint screening with UNHCR, as well as labour migration schemes for refugees that would help to meet countries' labour demands, improve labour standards, generate revenue, and eliminate criminal smuggling and trafficking networks.
"We are hoping for a paradigm shift in the region - a win-win for everyone that recognizes both the relatively greater wealth, compared to the CPA days in the eighties, and fewer refugees in this region compared to the rest of the world," said Türk, referring to the 1989 Comprehensive Plan of Action for Indochinese refugees. "With the record number of refugees and most pressing resettlement needs elsewhere, we need to work hard on a new compact that finds creative ways to absorb people in need of international protection within the region."
He noted that UNHCR is also working to identify ways and means for governments in the region to enhance engagement with the organization in joint approaches to registration, determination of international protection needs, and finding solutions.
Endorsing the Ministerial Declaration's pledges, the Assistant High Commissioner highlighted the crucial role that the Bali Process and the Regional Cooperation Framework can play in convening member States to respond to emergencies and to develop longer-term strategies.
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