Amid pressure from humanitarian organizations, Indonesia and Australia have moved to follow up on talks under the framework of the Bali Process to prepare for another possible refugee crisis in the Andaman Sea, where hundreds of asylum seekers died in 2015.
In recent weeks, hundreds of Rohingya refugees have made dangerous trips in the Bay of Bengal seeking refuge in nearby countries, but were refused entry due to the corona virus. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced almost all countries in the region to tighten border controls.
Malaysian and Thai authorities rejected 382 refugees traveling by ship in mid-April, citing fears of a coronavirus. The refugees were then rescued by Bangladesh.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi and her Australian counterpart Marise Payne spoke on the phone about the Rohingya crisis and the refugees on Friday, a Jakarta official said.
“They have agreed to explore and overcome this problem through mechanisms and within the framework of the Bali Process. This issue is being discussed at the level of senior officials, “said ministry official Achmad Rizal Purnama The Jakarta Post on Saturday.
The Bali Process, co-chaired by Indonesia and Australia, was established in 2002 to facilitate discussion and exchange of information about refugees, human trafficking and related transnational issues. Dozens of countries – including Bangladesh, Malaysia, Myanmar and Thailand – and many international institutions are members.
Reports say that ships carrying around 500 Rohingya refugees were recently spotted near Indonesian waters, encouraging the Aceh regional government to increase patrols in Aceh waters.
“Based on our air patrol, we have not yet found a ship carrying Rohingya immigrants. We will continue to conduct air patrols for the next few days, “Director of the Water and Air Police (Polairud) Aceh Regional Police, Commissioner General. Jemmy Rosdiantoro, said as quoted by kompas.com on Friday.
When asked whether Indonesia would accept refugees if they asked to go down to the coast of Indonesia, Foreign Ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah said that was still a hypothetical situation.
“Actually Indonesia’s policy is to prevent [refugees] from [making the journey] as a boatman, from the start. The trip will endanger the safety of anyone aboard, especially if there is an element of trafficking in persons, “said Faizasyah.
Countries’ reluctance to accept refugees, especially during the pandemic, has caused observers and activists to sound alarms that the 2015 refugee crisis in the Andaman Sea can be repeated.
According to the report of the United Nations High Refugee Commissioner (UNHCR), it is estimated that 33,600 refugees and migrants from various countries used smuggling vessels in Southeast Asia in 2015. Most of them were Rohingya or Bangladeshi refugees. Around 370 people are believed to have died.
The failure to make an immediate response to the crisis prompted the Bali Process member countries to agree to the 2016 Bali Declaration, which outlines the principles and the way forward to prevent another crisis. They also gave Indonesia and Australia the authority to hold consultative meetings with countries affected in the case of the influx crisis.
Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop, at the time, cited a lack of coordinated response in 2015 because there was no mechanism for the Bali Process to unite members in a timely manner.
That UNHCR urged earlier this month that Indonesia and Australia held high-level discussions among members of the Bali Process to prevent a recurrence of the crisis and to formulate possible regional responses.
But it is unclear whether the outcome of ongoing talks between Indonesian and Australian diplomats will trigger regional meetings or regional emergency responses.
Before the telephone call between Retno and Payne on Friday, the Australian newspaper Sydney Morning Herald reported that the Australians “refused to trigger emergency talks with other countries” to overcome the crisis under the Bali Process mechanism. It was reported that Australian officials stated that the Bali Process was a forum for policy dialogue and information sharing and, therefore, should not be used to trigger an emergency operational response to the refugee crisis.
However, Saad Hammadi from the Amnesty International South Asia office reminded all that the 2016 Bali Declaration encouraged member countries to provide safety and protection for migrants, victims of human trafficking, refugees and asylum seekers.
The declaration was also followed up with the formation of a task force on planning and preparedness, which made a commitment to save lives when responding to “irregular maritime migration” in February this year.
Hammadi estimates that at least 1,000 Rohingyas are currently stranded at sea, and they can sail for several weeks or even months without food or water, citing information from humanitarian agencies and local news reports.
“It is very important that Indonesia and Australia, the Bali Process cochairs, gather to immediately hold this discussion and ensure that the Rohingya, wherever they are, are given the right to land and are given security so that we do not see the sea becoming invisible. the grave, “he said.
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