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Asia-Pacific Countries First to Sign Agreement to Combat Human Trafficking

  • Angela Dewan

The Asia-Pacific region has become the first to produce a framework agreement to combat human trafficking. Member nations agreed to share responsibility for the regional problem and showed some support for a controversial proposal by the Australian government during a Bali Process meeting.

Thirty-two nations in the Asia-Pacific region agreed to take a regional approach to human trafficking and people smuggling during the fourth Bali Regional Ministerial Conference on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime. While the framework is non-binding, it is the world’s first such agreement.

The framework draws up the way in which nations should deal with people smugglers, asylum seekers, illegal immigrants and trafficking victims. The nations agreed that treatment of all parties should promote human life and dignity and reflect the principles of burden-sharing.

The Asia-Pacific region hosts 3.9-million refugees, according to the United nations, and includes source, transitional and destination nations for asylum seekers, illegal immigrants and trafficked people. Pakistan hosts 1.7-million refugees, Iran hosts more than one million, and around 150,000 refugees are residing in Thailand.

One of the Bali Process co-chairman is Indonesian Foreign Affairs Minister Marty Natalegawa. "Undocumented migration is increasingly an issue within the region. It is estimated that some of Asia’s largest undocumented migration flows may be among the largest of overall contemporary flows," he said.

Indonesia is often used as a transit nation for Australia-bound asylum seekers. It is also a source for victims of human trafficking.

The Bali Process is a 10-year-old initiative spearheaded by Australia and Indonesia. As a destination country, Australia has been struggling to deal with asylum seekers that arrive on its shores as its detention centers reach capacity.

The framework has been called a success by the Australian government, which has for years been looking for regional support on the issue. Australia Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd said the framework committed states to harmonized regional arrangements. "It also provides for the proper handling of those deemed to be refugees. It also provides for the returning of those found not to be refugees, and all done in a manner compatible to the relevant international standards," he said.

But the Australian government failed to make progress on a controversial proposal to build a refugee-processing center in the small nation of East Timor. It has for nine months been pushing the poorest nation in the region to host the facility, but East Timor has repeatedly rejected the proposal, saying it has other priorities.

Australia is celebrating one small victory, member nations showed support for a processing center, although no location was specified.

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