"The safety of refugees and migrants must be an absolute priority at this high-level meeting of the Bali Process. In 2015 alone, hundreds of people died taking dangerous and irregular maritime routes across South East Asian waters. Many of the people on the move in this region are fleeing persecution, and it is appalling that they are risking further abuse or death in order to reach safe areas," Champa Patel, Amnesty Internationals Interim Director for South East Asia and the Pacific, noted in a statement on Tuesday.
"Last years push-back policy on boats in the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea has illustrated the disastrous consequences of ignoring the plight of the people who resorted to dangerous routes to escape serious threats to their lives. Governments have not lived up to their obligations to respect, promote, and protect the rights of refugees and migrants," Patel affirmed.
The Bali Process is an international forum whose objectives are to facilitate discussion and information sharing on issues relating to people smuggling, human trafficking, and related transnational crimes. It is co-chaired by Australia and Indonesia.
In 2015 alone, the UN Refugee Agency estimated that at least 33.6 thousand refugees and migrants travelled through South East Asia in mixed maritime movements.
The refugee crisis, which erupted in Southeast Asia in May last year, witnessed thousands of people from Myanmar and Bangladesh stranded in rickety boats, pushed back from safety on shore, trafficked into forced labor, or killed at sea.
The absence of legal frameworks in some transit and destination countries has meant that those who do reach land safely have minimal protection and are frequently subject to arrests and detention.
"Regional cooperation is vital for addressing these matters, and the member states must strengthen the ways they work together, including in developing effective search and rescue operations and creating safe and legal pathways for refugees and migrants in order to avert further disasters at sea," Patel emphasized.
Amnesty International also stressed that without a change in the circumstances that lead to forced and irregular movements, the safety and protection of refugees and migrants cannot be guaranteed.
Effective regional cooperation necessitates meeting the temporary needs of refugees and asylum seekers, allocating responsibility, and finding solutions for people in need of international protection. (*)