UN agencies welcome renewed commitments from Bali Process States at Adelaide Ministerial meeting
Bangkok — As the Bali Process ministers concluded their meeting in Adelaide on Friday, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) welcomed the endorsement of an updated strategy for cooperation designed to reinvigorate an agile, relevant and responsive Bali Process as it moves beyond 20 years since its establishment.
The Eight Ministerial meeting reviewed developments in the Bali Process region, and agreed priorities to address emerging challenges in relation to people smuggling, human trafficking and related transnational crimes. Officials were tasked to reactivate the Consultation Mechanism in response to the increased maritime movements and explore options for Bali Process engagement and support.
The three UN agencies continued to stress the need for prompt search and rescue and timely disembarkation in a place of safety when lives at sea are at danger. Last year was one of the deadliest years in the region since the Andaman Sea Crisis in 2015. In 2022, more than 3,600 Rohingya refugees were adrift in the sea, with over 340 dead or missing.
“We need to save lives. We need a regional conversation to establish a predictable and equitable mechanism for disembarkation and to support States where disembarkation takes place,” said Gillian Triggs, UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection. “Not allowing disembarkation has cost human lives, and the duty to rescue is not only a legal international obligation but also a moral one.’’
IOM, UNHCR and UNODC also shared a proposal for action that provides practical suggestions for enhancing cooperation, including though the utilization of a regional consultation mechanism to address maritime movements in the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea. If activated, this would allow members to better engage in the response to urgent irregular migration emergencies and be an instrument for effective dialogue and coordination.
Additionally, the UN agencies continued to urge members to build the capacity of States to initiate proactive and joint investigations of criminal networks involved in transnational organized crimes, offering support in tackling common issues affecting member states in the region and beyond.
“Given the most recent trafficking trends into forced criminality, IOM reiterates the importance of screening irregular migrants for vulnerability to understand when States may be dealing with victims of trafficking who need specialized support,” said Sarah Lou Ysmael Arriola, IOM Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific. “This would both offer better protection for people in vulnerable situations, but also provide valuable information to law enforcement on possible criminal activity.”
Trafficking to commit online fraud and scams occurs in the context of growing organized criminality in the region. To address this complex challenge, comprehensive response must entail tackling corruption, money laundering, human trafficking and cybercrime, while protecting those who were exploited and forced to participate in activities exclusively profiting organized criminal groups.
“We need a strong political commitment to take on these challenges. And it will need to be put into action through targeted responses,” said Jeremy Douglas, the UNODC Regional Representative. “To this end, we are in discussions to develop a regional framework to address transnational organized crimes specifically related to scams and connected crimes,” He added, “strategic coherence and operational results are urgently needed.”
In addition to efforts to tackle people smuggling, human trafficking and related transnational crime, the root causes underlying displacement and factors influencing desperate boat journeys also needs to be addressed.
This year also marks the second Global Refugee Forum, co-convened by Japan and five other countries in Geneva this December, which would be a moment for Bali Process members to further demonstrate solidarity to address displacement issues.
UN agencies had earlier called for the meeting to not only reaffirm previous commitments made in 2016 and 2018, but also to fully materialize and operationalize these commitments.