Statement to the Seventh Ministerial Conference of the Bali Process
Let me join previous speakers in conveying sympathy, solidarity, and support to the government and people of Indonesia for the loss of life caused by the earthquakes in Lombok.
In May 2015, thousands of refugees from Myanmar and migrants from Bangladesh were cast adrift in the Andaman Sea: abandoned by smugglers, who cut their losses and jumped ship; and abandoned by governments, who either pushed them out or refused to let them in.
That inaction had grave consequences. Dozens of refugees and migrants died, unable to disembark.
Through the Bali Process, your Governments took note, and took action. In March 2016, the Ministers of the Bali Process declared that the transnational nature of irregular migration required a comprehensive regional approach, based on burden-sharing and collective responsibility.
The result was ground-breaking: a remarkable declaration, covering all key aspects of a principled and comprehensive response. This included identifying more predictable disembarkation options and cooperating on search and rescue. States also agreed to address root causes by resolving statelessness, investing in inclusive development, and expanding safe pathways so that refugees and migrants would have legal alternatives to dangerous modes of travel.
In short, you agreed not to abandon refugees and migrants again, echoing the call of the Sustainable Development Goals to leave no one behind.
The last year has underlined the importance of these commitments. More than 700,000 Rohingya refugees have crossed from Myanmar to Bangladesh. And in April, we saw the first refugee boats sailing through the Andaman Sea since 2015, eventually landing in Malaysia and Indonesia.
But we cannot let just a few countries bear this responsibility. Two years ago, commitments were made to share responsibility. Tools were put in place for a collective response, through the Consultative Mechanism and the Task Force on Planning and Preparedness. It is urgent to move ahead from consultation to action, to agree on joint responses. Potential disembarkation sites could be identified and costs shared in advance. National action plans need to converge on common elements of search and rescue and disembarkation. Otherwise, interdiction by one country leaves rescue and disembarkation to another.
We need to be prepared, in the event of large movements of refugees by sea and by land. But we need also to work towards comprehensive solutions for the people of Rakhine State, so that they are not forced to move in the first place. I appreciate the importance of control and enforcement. But addressing seriously, substantively the root causes is the only way we will truly address irregular migration and the transnational crimes the Bali Process is mandated to address.
If every country agrees to do a little, no country needs to do a lot. That is the essence of responsibility-sharing at the heart of the new Global Compact on Refugees, which the United Nations will hopefully adopt later this year.
I urge you to consider what support your governments could pledge in solidarity with Bangladesh until solutions are found for refugees. Could your government support, for example, construction of hospitals in Bangladesh that will treat refugees but also improve the healthcare of local people? Can we conceive of development, trade, and migration-related measures to help, for example, the people and Government of Bangladesh shoulder the responsibility of hosting some 900,000 refugees, such as expanding guest worker quotas for Bangladeshis that would increase remittances, or reducing tariffs on garment exports from Bangladesh?
The real solution, of course, lies in Myanmar, and there, too, those of us assembled in this room have much to contribute. UNHCR and UNDP, as was mentioned, have committed to helping Myanmar create conditions inside Rakhine State that would be conducive to the voluntary and sustainable return of refugees, meaning freedom of movement and a pathway to citizenship for those who remain. It also means inclusive development that benefits all communities. These conditions were stipulated in a MOU, but they are not yet in place. We are still waiting for access to carry out our work. Trust still needs to be rebuilt. I appeal to the government of Myanmar, with the support of all of you, to implement the commitments made in the MoU as soon as possible.
How can your governments help? Can you invest in infrastructure in Rakhine State that connects communities instead of dividing them? Can you provide expertise on resolving statelessness and intercommunal conflict? Can you share how your nations have drawn strength from diversity, how you have achieved peace and prosperity through inclusion?
The Bali Process has developed vital tools to reduce the risks of smuggling, trafficking, and irregular migration. While broad international solidarity as outlined in the global compact on refugees remains essential, this is no longer a region that can or needs to rely on other countries to help them receive and support refugees, There are now, more than ever, opportunities for refugees in this region to contribute to their host communities, and for governments and businesses in the region to invest in—and benefit from—resilience in host countries and countries of origin. Only through this kind of solidarity, in which each of us does our part, can we ensure that no one in the region is abandoned, at sea or at home, and that no country in the region is abandoned when it opens its doors to those in need.