In July 2022, the Task Force on Planning and Preparedness convened two virtual Policy Experts Gatherings to review the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on irregular migration, and discuss the particular vulnerabilities of women and children.
Both days had strong attendance, with 70 individuals online for both sessions from 20 members/observers. Participating Bali Process members included representatives from co-chairs Australia and Indonesia, Bangladesh, Hong Kong, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, the Maldives, New Zealand, Samoa, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Timor Leste, Tonga, Viet Nam, UNHCR, IOM and UNODC. UNDP, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Canada attended as observers. The Co-Managers of the Bali Process Regional Support Office also attended.
On day one, members were invited to present on lessons learned with respect to handling irregular migration during pandemics. Issues covered included:
- trends in irregular migration observed during the pandemic
- the experience of survivors, with a focus on the unique vulnerabilities of migrant workers
- national policy objectives and plans of action
- integrity of travel documents, including new challenges arising from the pandemic, such as fraudulent health documentation and vaccine certificates.
Health experts and civil society actors were invited to present on the challenges they witnessed during the pandemic for irregular migrants. A number of members spoke about policies temporarily implemented to regularize and provide visa certainty to stranded migrants.
A key conclusion was that inclusive policies for vaccinations and other health needs of migrants during the pandemic had led to better outcomes. There was a suggestion that the Bali Process could work on guidance and recommendations on managing migrant health, which could include a common set of SOPs.
On day two, participants were invited to present on actions they were taking to address the particular vulnerabilities of women and children in irregular migration.
Experts from UNHCR and the ASEAN-Australia Counter-Trafficking Program spoke about the importance of a gender-sensitive and victim-centered approach to management of irregular migration and victims of trafficking.
A presentation from UNHCR highlighted the challenges faced by Rohingya women and children departing Cox's Bazaar by boat. Five boats with 700 Rohingya had arrived in Indonesia in 2020 and 2021, of which 45% were women and 29% were children, 65% of whom were unaccompanied. Trauma, child marriage and violence against women suffered at sea and in camps were widespread issues.
Indonesia's National Agency for Witness and Victim Protection (LPSK) presented on its work in protecting, supporting and empowering victims of trafficking in Indonesia, including provision of psychosocial support, support for skills-development, and work with law enforcement to incentivize restitution payments from perpetrators to victims.
The Regional Support Office highlighted the role that victim-centered and gender sensitive approaches play in all of the RSO’s workshops. The RSO also referred members to the RSO’s Practitioner Guide Series, which offers practical guidance on identification and protection of trafficking victims, as well as the RSO UNHCR toolkit and mobile application on screening and referral, designed to assist border officials to identify people with specific needs.
The inclusion of civil society members as guest speakers in both days was welcomed by participants and provided ideas for future participation in Bali Process activities, particularly focused on victims/survivors of trafficking.