Aussie Government on Regional Trafficking Agenda

Following Bangkok post article is saying the Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop will be attending regional forum tackling "human trafficking". Recent finding of a mass grave for human trafficking victims, governments in the region are in alert about unregulated movement of people, especially Rohingya refugee and all those in migratory movements. Though on the surface, there is nothing wrong about convening such regional forum, current Australian Liberal/Coalition Government's involvement should have to be noted with caution and due skepticism. Following points are all refugees and human rights activists should keep in mind:

(1) Australian Government's first and foremost priority in regards to unregulated migratory movement of people within this region is to get rid of the asylum-seekers currently held in Australia's offshore detention centres, such as Nauru and PNG. The number of such asylum-seekers seems to be significant, and Australian Liberal Government had vowed the asylum-seekers not to get resettled in Australia. Julie Bishop recently had made a trip even to Iran, asking government there to take back the failed Iranian asylum seekers. Apparently, that request didn't get nowhere. She will be pushing forwards her Government's agenda of returning those asylum-seekers, especially being held at the off-shore detention centres.

(2) Australian Government's so-called "resettlement deals" with Cambodia has proved that the Australian Government is prepare to spend significant amount of incentive (carrots) to potential client states to which these asylum-seekers can be transferred. The proposed transferring of such asylum-seekers to Cambodia appears to have done via IOM, for which the UNHCR had no parts in it. The Cambodia resettlement deals, to my assessment, is more of "spin" than "substance" in nature. The Australian Government is using this "Cambodian resettlements" primarily as local media consumption. The Australian Government neither had the capacity nor political wisdom to properly deal with those asylum-seekers currently detained off-shore, left alone tackling root causes of displacements.

(3) Australia's bi-lateral relation with its neighbour Indonesia had deteriorated significantly since current Liberal/Coalition government coming into power. The Liberal/Coalition, whilst campaigning for office in 2011-12, had vowed to turn back refugee-boats departing from Indonesia. The Government of Indonesia had, then, objected such Australian policy as unacceptable. As of early 2014, a few maritime incidents reportedly had occurred involving Royal Australian Navy and Indonesian National Armed Forces ( ). This is the result of Australian Government's almost childish obsession to "prove" itself that it is "tough" on boat-people, whilst playing brinksmanship ( နိင္ငံေရး ေသြးတိုးစမ္းတာ ) with the Government of Indonesia. The Indonesian Government's displeasure on this is now known to all of us and will not be repeated here. Australia's one known defence against boat-arrivals has already weakened.

(4) Evidently, whilst looking for far-afield alliance against human traffickers, the Australian Government is now trapped on its own rhetoric of "getting tough on refugees" and practical task of dealing with the mounting crisis on its off-shore asylum-seekers. Therefore, for Australian Government's involvement in forth-coming regional "human trafficking forum", I hold no high hope. Australian Government, at its best, will contribute nothing of substance to remedy the root causes of human trafficking. At worst, it will buy-out few more client states within the region (Bangladesh, Malaysia or Burma, maybe) for its detained asylum-seekers to have transferred, even if it were just token in numbers.

(5) As for the refugee activists, be clearly keep in mind that the Government of Australia is going to push its narrow and selfish agenda on asylum-seekers. By "dangling carrots", the weak states like Burma, Bangladesh and Malaysia are prone to become client-states, which Australia can dump its asylum-seekers detained off-shore.

In Solidarity,
U Ne Oo, Australia.

9th May 2015
Australia on Friday agreed to join a multi-lateral summit hosted by Thailand aimed at tackling the issue of undocumented Rohingya not only in Thailand but also in the region.

Officials round up about 60 migrants near Khao Kaew in Songkhla’s Rattaphum district on Friday, bringing the number of surviving migrants rescued from the mountain to 96. (Photo by Wichayant Boonchote).

Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop agreed to the proposal during meetings on Friday with Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and deputy premier and Foreign Minister Tanasak Patimapragorn. “I certainly committed Australia to attend. We think [the summit] is a good idea and if Thailand wishes to host it we will certainly be supporting it,” Ms Bishop said after the meetings.

Ms Bishop’s visit was the first by a top Australian minister since the May 22 coup last year.

Australia expressed “grave concerns” following the coup and “reduced engagement” with the Thai military and lowered its “interaction” with the Thai military leadership. But she said last night, “The issue of human trafficking has drawn greater focus as a result of the discovery of the detention camps and graves in Thailand. It’s a shocking discovery.

“I acknowledge the efforts of the Thai government to respond in a timely fashion and to announce an investigation that I understand will be very thorough. I was encouraged by the discussion today by the deputy prime minister and the prime minister about a regional forum.” Although details and the timing of such a summit have not yet been
worked out, Thailand hopes to be able to host the summit this month. Ms Bishop said Thailand and Australia are part of the Bali Process on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime (Bali Process) founded in 2002.

The Bali Process comprises 45 member countries including Bangladesh, Malaysia, Myanmar and Indonesia. It deals with the issues of people smuggling, asylum seekers and illegal movement of people in the region. “We recognise a regional response is required. Likewise with human trafficking which has connections with the Bali Process. But this is a
particularly vile trade and it has to be disrupted,” Ms Bishop said.

“One country cannot do it alone. It has to be something that is done on a regional basis.” On Jan 26 this year Thailand and Australia signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to cooperate in developing regional programmes to combat human trafficking. This involves support to various Thai agencies.

Solving the problem of Rohingya trafficking requires not only cooperation from Myanmar and Bangladesh which are the countries of origin of the Rohingya migrants, but also the countries which are migrants’ destinations, Prime Minister Prayut said yesterday. Malaysia and Australia are among the destination countries for the migrants. Thailand cannot solve the problem alone, the prime minister said. Gen Prayut said human trafficking cannot operate smoothly without help from “rogue” officials, adding that any officials involved in human trafficking will be punished.

The prime minister also said the Foreign Ministry will arrange the international summit with the relevant countries and organisations in order to discuss the matter by the end of this month. During the meeting, joint working panels will be set up to find solutions to the problem, he said.

Meanwhile, Padang Besar mayor Banjong Pongpol, suspected of involvement in a human trafficking ring, turned himself in to police yesterday, deputy national police chief Ake Angsananont said. He is among 29 suspects whom a Songkhla court has approved arrest warrants for in connection with the smuggling of Rohingya migrants. More arrest warrants are also being sought for seven more suspects. Police believe Mr Banjong masterminded the human trafficking ring. However, Mr Banjong denied the accusations and vowed to fight the case in court, police sources said. Police have detained him for questioning.

Several other local officials and members local administrative bodies are also facing arrest warrants for Rohingya trafficking.

They include Prasit Lemleh, deputy chief of tambon Padang Besar municipality; Arson Inthanu, a member of tambon Padang Besar Municipality Council; Yali Khrem, headman of Moo 8 village in Padang Besar; Ro-ae Sonyalae and Ali Lamoh, both assistant village headmen in tambon Padang Besar.

Two local policemen — Pol Lt Mongkol Suro, head of a border-patrol police unit, and Pol Snr Sgt Maj Asaneeran Nualrod, a squad leader at the Padang Besar police station — were also held for questioning.