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Executive Summary for March 22nd

We review the latest developments on refugee issues, including the Bali Process on human trafficking, people smuggling and refugees, displaced Rohingya returning to their homes in Myanmar and violent clashes at a refugee camp in South Sudan.

Published on March 22, 2016 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

Bali Process to Address Refugees and Smuggling

The Bali Process on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime will hold a high-level meeting that brings together 45 member countries for the first time in three years this Wednesday, according to media reports.

Given the global surge in displacement over 2015, forced migration and refugees will be key topics this year.

The Rohingya of Myanmar who continue to experience high levels of persecution and impoverishment due to systematic government policies and the Afghans who remain the largest population of refugees in the region, are the main groups of concern.

The Bali Process is an international forum that was created in 2002 with the objective of addressing smuggling, trafficking in persons and related transnational crimes.

Australia and Indonesia, who initiated the Process, will play leading roles at the conference. Foreign ministers of the two countries met ahead of the summit and relayed confidence in “strengthening ties” and a strong partnership to tackle human trafficking issues, according to the Jakarta Post.

This year’s conference is expected to result in a “declaration detailing an emergency response mechanism for people smuggling and human trafficking in the region,” according to the same news article.

As most countries in the Asia-Pacific region, including Indonesia, are not party to the U.N. Refugee Convention, protecting the rights of asylum seekers and refugees has been a challenging task for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), who are also members of the Process.

Rohingya IDPs Return to Their Homes in Myanmar

The U.N. has reported that the number of Rohingya living in Internally Displaced People (IDP) camps in Rakhine State, Myanmar, has fallen from 145,000 to 120,000 over 2015.

“The majority of Rohingya who have left the camps have rebuilt houses in their place of origin,” said Vivian Tan, regional spokesperson for the UNHCR, according to a Reuters report.

U.N. agencies are hailing the reduction in the number of IDP camps from 67 to 40, as a “positive step toward ending displacement and cutting humanitarian dependency,” according to Tan.

Tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims have fled poverty and persecution in western Myanmar, especially since religious violence and communal riots in 2012, with a majority heading to Malaysia.

While government officials in Bangkok are citing the return of Rohingya to their homes as a reason for the reduced number of asylum seekers and migrants entering Thailand, rights activists point to Thai- and Bangladesh-led crackdowns on smugglers as the main reason.

“Thailand is closed and cannot be used for disembarkation… Anti-trafficking operations are going on in Bangladesh as well,” said Chris Lewa of the Arakan Project, a Rohingya advocacy group that tracks migration, in an interview with Reuters.

South Sudan Reels From New Clashes at IDP Camp

Following deadly clashes last Saturday at an IDP camp in Jebel, South Sudan, which claimed one life and caused dozens of injuries, local leaders have accused the government of “instigating” violence between youth groups, according to a local media report.

Renewed conflict in Juba in December 2013 displaced over 1.4 million South Sudanese who are now housed at eight U.N. bases in South Sudan that act as a “safe haven” for civilians vulnerable to attacks by warring parties.

These latest clashes follow a more intense spate of violence in the northeastern town of Malakal that claimed 18 lives, including two members of Doctors Without Borders (MSF), according to an Al Jazeera report from February 19.

Calling it a “potential war crime” the U.N. spokesperson warned “all the warring parties that the U.N. installations are to be respected and the sanctity of this settlement is to be respected,” according to the same report.

Human Rights Watch issued a statement on February 26 claiming that “Both pro- and anti-government armed forces are responsible for serious abuses that may amount to war crimes,” in response to the clashes in Malakal and Bentiu, the capitals of two oil producing states.

Recommended Reads

Top image: Rohingya children travel in rickshaws in Thet Kabyin village, north of Sittwe, western Rakhine State, Myanmar. Hate-filled sermons helped incite violence that began in 2012, leaving hundreds dead and sending a quarter-million others fleeing their homes. (AP Photo/ Gemunu Amarasinghe)

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