Regional Civil Society Consultation on Mixed Migration Flows in and to South East Asia
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia from 7th to 9th July 2015 at Mines Wellness Hotel.
Migration in the South East Asian sub-region is complex. One of the characteristics of migration flows is its mixed nature. Mixed migration flows mean that clandestine migration channels include people migrating for or in search of economic opportunities, people who are trafficked, as well as people fleeing persecution. South East Asian countries may be countries of origin, transit, or destination for these mixed migration flows.
Thailand is a country of origin, transit, and destination for migrants and Malaysia primarily a destination country for migrants and individuals fleeing persecution from neighbouring states in the sub-region or from South Asian countries.
The inadequacy or lack of safe and regular migration routes between the main countries of origin and destination funnels migrants and asylum-seekers into irregular routes. Migrants can be trafficked whether they migrate through regular or irregular routes. Most migrants in irregular situations will use the services of smugglers at some point during their journeys. Counter-smuggling narratives in policy development and media coverage often present migrants from refugee-producing countries and migrants from other states quite differently, the former as “victims” and the latter as somehow at least partly culpable for the harm done to them. Smugglers are routinely framed as “criminals” along with calls for enhanced securitisation – border controls and law enforcement – as a simple solution to the issue. A human rights analysis of contemporary migrant smuggling puts the migrant at the centre of the response and presents a more nuanced picture.
The situation in South East Asia is not new, it is a long-term governance gap. The smuggling routes were well-established and known and over the last year and a half, international agencies estimate over 80 thousand migrants, adults and children, have travelled by sea from Bangladesh and Myanmar to Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. The discovery in May of mass graves at a number of abandoned camps on either side of the Thai-Malaysian border, though rumoured for many years, triggered an international outcry. Malaysia has found 139 grave sites and signs of torture in more than two dozen squalid camps suspected to have been used by gangs smuggling migrants across the border with Thailand. Police reports indicate that the dead are migrants from Bangladesh and ethnic Rohingya from Myanmar who starved to death or died of disease while being held for ransom before smugglers would take them into Malaysia. States have attempted to seal their borders and pushed boats back, leaving people to die at sea. Those who do make it to land can face immigration detention and deportation and an uncertain future.
The tens of thousands of refugees and migrants, including Rohingya Muslims from western Myanmar and migrants from Bangladesh, undertook these perilous journeys by sea and land to escape religious and ethnic persecution, poverty, decent work deficits, and the effects of climate change in search of work abroad. It is believed that about 25,000 Bangladeshis and Rohingya boarded boats headed for Malaysia in the first three months of this year, twice as many as in the same period in 2014. They are often transported through Thailand, and taken into the country's jungles, where they are then held for ransom before they are released or smuggled across the border mainly to Malaysia. None of the affected countries have ratified the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees or its 1967 Protocol, or the Protocol Against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air, supplementing the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime. There is a protection shortfall for refugees, asylum-seekers and stateless people in the sub-region due to a lack of national legal frameworks in most South-East Asian countries. There remains a lack of understanding on the smuggling of migrants.
Both Thailand and Malaysia were downgraded to Tier 3 of the United States 2014 Trafficking in Persons report. The Trafficking in Persons Report is the US government’s principal diplomatic tool to engage foreign governments on human trafficking. Tier 3 is the ranking given to countries whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards in combatting trafficking and that the US assesses are not making significant efforts to do so. This place can pose risks for US investments into the countries as well as exports to the US. In addition the EU was threatening a trade ban on imports of seafood from Thailand over unlawful fishing. These factors along with the discovery of the camps prompted Thai officials to crack down on smuggling rings.
One consequence of this crackdown was that smugglers abandoned boats at sea with migrants still on board without fuel, water and food. Four boats carrying some 1,400 Rohingya migrants were rescued off the coasts of Indonesia and Malaysia on 11 May; the next day nearly 600 others arrived in a wooden vessel off Indonesia’s Aceh province. More than 1,000 migrants from Bangladesh and Myanmar landed in Malaysia after being dumped in shallow waters off the resort island of Langkawi. However at the height of international attention to the situation in mid-May, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimated up to 8,000 people were still stranded at sea.
The magnitude of the problem is huge and deep-rooted. As we move beyond the immediate crisis response, there is a need to bring together civil society, media, government officials and other relevant stakeholders from all concerned countries and communities to share analysis and develop strategies to address the issue and CARAM Asia is organizing a Regional Civil Society Meeting on this issue.
Objectives of Regional Strategic Planning Meeting
We see the meeting as being primarily explorative at this stage. The main objective of organizing this regional meeting is to bring together all relevant stakeholders on a platform to discuss the various dimensions of the issue, provide and obtain updates, develop coordination and network among all actors to work together to advocate for the rights of the individuals who are migrating in increased numbers in response to a range of human rights crises.
Meeting Dates and Venue
The two-day Regional Meeting will be organised in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia from 7th to 9th July 2015 at Mines Wellness Hotel.
Target Countries: Bangladesh, Indonesia, Myanmar, Malaysia, Thailand
Participants: Participants from governments, UN, international organizations, trade unions, NGOs and media will be attending. Total100 participants are attending the meeting.
Participants have up-to-date knowledge of the context in countries of origin and destination and the actions taken to date at national and sub-regional level
Participants have greater conceptual clarity on the smuggling of migrants and trafficking in persons
Participants will strategise about protection needs and gaps for the refugees and asylum seekers in the sub-region
Participants will identify any further questions, including research gaps, policy development needs, etc., that need to be addressed
Participants will identify opportunities to advocate for the rights of individuals in these mixed migration flows as well as a rights-based approach to preventing any repeat of these abuses at sea.
The consultation will be an interactive dialogue between all participants. Plenary sessions will open with short presentations to start the discussions. There will also be some discussions in smaller groups with feedback to the other participants. The meeting will operate under the Chatham House Rule to enable open discussion.
Organizers of Strategic Planning Meeting
CARAM Asia aims to organise this meeting in coordination with other national and regional organizations namely Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD), Migrant Forum in Asia (MFA), Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRRN), Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW), Migration Working Group (MWG) and Tenaganita. All these organizations will join hands with CARAM Asia to invite participants from government sector, trade unions and journalists from all target countries by using their contacts in the region. CARAM Asia is in discussion with other organizations as well to coordinate in organizing the meeting.
 Thailand signed the Smuggling Protocol in 2001