Category Archives: ASEAN

Big talk but little action on Rohingya

Though the crisis was subject of intense discussion discussed at the Asean meet, few decisions were made

While Asean has shown its willingness and readiness to help solve the Rohingya crisis and ensure the safe return of thousands of refugees, the situation in Rakhine state is not safe enough for stakeholders to get to work, Foreign Minister Don Pramuwinai said on Friday.

An intense discussion on the violence in Rakhine was held during the retreat meeting of Asean foreign ministers in Chiang Mai, in which they reflected on the 10-nation bloc’s decision at last year’s Singapore summit to help ease the crisis.

Asean has commissioned its Asean Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management (AHA Centre) to help provide assistance to the displaced Rohingya.

Team waiting to be dispatched

Asean Secretary-General Lim Jock Hoi, who visited Myanmar from December 16-18, briefed the ministers about the terms of reference for the Needs Assessment Team to be dispatched to the strife-torn state.

More than 700,000 Rohingya people have fled from Rakhine state since August 2017, when militant attacks to security outposts prompted a military “clearance operation”. They suffered atrocities including arson, torture, murder, gang rape and massacre while fleeing to the Bangladesh border.

While the United Nations and United States loudly protested against these actions, some even calling it a “genocide”, Asean refrained from making any judgements and only commented on the need for a humanitarian response.

Myanmar and Bangladesh reached a deal to repatriate the first batch of refugees mid-November, but failed to implement it due to resistance from refugees who feared for their safety.

The Muslim minority are treated as outsiders in the predominantly Buddhist state, where they are called “Bengali” as a rejection of their Myanmar heritage, and refused citizenship.

Myanmar delegates at the Chiang Mai meeting briefed their Asean counterparts on their perspective of the situation, but the details were not made publicly available.

While the terms of reference of the needs assessment team was endorsed by a meeting of high-level strategic coordinators during Lim’s visit to Myanmar last month, a schedule for the team to visit Rakhine for its mission could not be fixed.

The initial schedule set for January 12-26 was postponed, as the situation on the ground is not conducive for the team to get in, Don told a press briefing on Friday. He added that a new timeline could not be fixed.

However, Don said the discussion on the issue fully supported the role of Asean in helping the Myanmar government in the repatriation process, adding, “[we] hope it will take place as soon as possible”.

In addition to collective efforts, Don said that many Asean members, including Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia, had provided assistance to Myanmar on the matter. Thailand has some agriculture projects in Rakhine state, he noted.

In his press statement issued as chair of the meeting, Don said Asean had “stressed the need to find a comprehensive and durable solution to address the root cause of the conflict, and to create a conducive environment so affected communities can rebuild their lives”.

Written by Supalak Ganjanakhundee
Source: The Nation
Published on 19 January 2019

ASEAN, Myanmar to formalise cooperation on refugee repatriation

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the government on Tuesday discussed the Terms of Reference (ToR) that will formalise their cooperation in the repatriation of refugees from northern Rakhine State living in cramped camps in Bangladesh.

Minister of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement U Win Myat Aye, said the 10-country regional group, of which Myanmar is also a member, was represented in the discussion by Secretary General Lim Jock Hoi.

“We will take action for cooperation after we discuss the ToR” he said.

He added the government will show the international community that it will systematically implement the repatriation of the over 700,000 refugees with the participation of ASEAN.

Lim led the ASEAN delegation, which included the executive director of the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management (AHA Centre), on a visit to restive northern Rakhine State on Monday to observe the government’s preparations related to the resettlement of the returnees.

U Soe Aung, head of the Maungdaw township administration, said the ASEAN delegation visited the Taung Pyo Latwe and Nga Khu Ya reception centres, as well as the Hla Phoe Khaung transit camp in Shwezar village.

“They checked the buildings at the reception centres and the preparation work of immigration for the returnees,” he said.

U Aung Kyaw Zan, deputy permanent secretary of the Foreign Affairs Ministry, said on Tuesday that Myanmar and ASEAN are also discussing in detail the assignment of fact-finding missions to conduct the actual repatriation on the ground.

He added that the international pressure on the government could be greatly reduced as a result of ASEAN being not only a witness to the process of repatriation that the Myanmar government has been implementing but also an active participant in the effort.

“ASEAN can put in place the necessary mechanisms for repatriation and we could implement them efficiently if there is someone fully supporting us,” U Aung Kyaw Zan said.

Myanmar and Bangladesh signed the Arrangement on Return of Displaced Persons from Rakhine State on November 23 last year in which they agreed to repatriate over 2000 refugees last month.

However, no refugees opted to return, saying they didn’t want to go back without being given assurances of security and citizenship rights.

The refugees fled from northern Rakhine last year after the government launched a military crackdown on the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) after it attacked several government outposts in the area on August 25.

The international community accused government forces of using excessive force and perpetrating grave human rights abuses against minority Muslims in the state.

Written by Nyan Lynn Aung
Source: Myanmar Times
Published on 19 December 2018

ASEAN to Give Greater Attention to Migrant Workers

Jakarta, Dec 12 (Prensa Latina) The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) called Wednesday on the international community to give greater attention to the growing number of migrant workers.

On launching its Safe Migration Campaign in Jakarta, the community proclaimed that securing the basic rights and interests of these people will be one of the key points of its work towards 2025.

Southeast Asian countries currently host more than 9 million migrant workers, seven of them from ASEAN members (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam).

The ASEAN General Secretary for the Socio-Cultural Community, at the launch of the campaign, indicated that out of the 625 million inhabitants of the block, more than 300 million are working-age, of whom about 6 percent are migrant workers.

This circumstance gives the group the duty to propose measures to guarantee their rights and legitimate interests, he said.

The European Union ambassador to ASEAN, Francisco Fontan, said this is a challenge for everyone.

Workers migrate to other nations to improve their incomes, but many face great difficulties, including labor abuse and exploitation, he said.

In this regard, he advised Vietnam to take advantage of the neighboring countries’ experience in encouraging the sending of labor abroad, but ensuring their rights.

Last November, during its summit in the Philippines, ASEAN agreed on a declaration on the protection and rights of migrant workers.

Recently, the World Bank (WB) pointed out that migration in Southeast Asia could be a dynamizing element of national economies.

As an example, he cited that Malaysia’s Gross Domestic Product could grow 1.1 per cent only if it allowed 10 per cent more low-skilled workers to enter, and that if it dispensed with them, Thailand’s economy would fall by 0.75 per cent.

The WB pointed out that ASEAN’s advances in this matter are limited to professionals and other personnel of high or medium-high qualification, just one out of 20 among those who are part of that contingent.

Migration procedures within ASEAN are still restrictive, the report criticized, according to which rigid employment policies undermine the immigrants’ options and protection.

The report did not explain why these policies were not good for Europe.

Source: Prensa Latina
Published on 12 December 2018

Mekong Migration Network (MMN) cautiously welcomes the ASEAN Consensus on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers, signed by the Heads of ASEAN States during the 31st ASEAN Summit.


Mekong Migration Network Statement

22 November 2017

Mekong Migration Network (MMN) cautiously welcomes the ASEAN Consensus on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers, signed by the Heads of ASEAN States during the 31st ASEAN Summit.

MMN is a sub-regional network of civil society organisations (CSOs) working to protect and promote migrants’ rights in the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS). Given the significant impact that ASEAN policies on the protection of migrant workers will have in the GMS, MMN has actively engaged in ASEAN policy dialogues wherever possible.

MMN recalls the optimism and excitement among CSOs at the signing of the ASEAN Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers in 2007. Although the scope of the Declaration was limited, it nonetheless conveyed the expectation that ASEAN was intent on protecting and promoting the rights of migrant workers. With a commitment to contribute constructively to the follow-up process, various migrants’ rights networks, including MMN, joined forces to formulate the “Civil Society Proposal: ASEAN Framework Instrument on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers”.[1] Our joint proposal was submitted to ASEAN in 2009 and was warmly welcomed by Dr. Donald Tambunan, the then head of the Social Welfare, Women, Labour and Migrant Workers Division of the ASEAN Secretariat.[2]

Since then, in preparation for the formulation of an effective instrument, countless CSO and government meetings have been held, including the annual ASEAN Forum on Migrant Labour (AFML).

The Consensus is a result of these decade-long efforts. On a positive note, the instrument recognises the contribution of migrants to both sending and receiving countries, and reaffirms the respect for and promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as the principles of democracy, the rule of law and good governance.

While we are disappointed that the Consensus has practical limitations, since it is not legally binding and the clauses are subject to national laws, regulations and policies, we nonetheless hold out optimism in the positive spirit and moral principles expressed within the Consensus. We sincerely hope that Singapore, the next chair of ASEAN, will display progressive leadership in developing the follow-up action plan.

In particular, we urge ASEAN states to consider the following areas in developing its action plan:

  1. Mediation – While the responsibilities of receiving and sending countries are spelled out within the Consensus, greater clarity is required in terms of how respective countries will resolve situations where there is a contradiction or inconsistency in policies between sending and receiving countries. We urge ASEAN to develop an effective system of mediation whereby disputes and policy incoherence can be discussed and resolved in a constructive, non-confrontational and cooperative manner.
  2. Monitoring – While the responsibilities of ASEAN states are elaborated within the Consensus, no mention is made as to how they will work towards fulfilling their commitments. We urge ASEAN to establish effective monitoring mechanisms to oversee the progress made by member states on issues such as changes made to prevailing laws, regulations and policies to reflect the spirit of the Consensus. As implementation of the Consensus is subject to national laws, regulations and policies, there is an urgent need to develop a coherent approach to implementation to avoid ad hoc application. Furthermore, given the relatively weak negotiation position of sending countries, we urge ASEAN to pay special attention to the challenges faced by sending countries, while encouraging receiving states to facilitate efforts made by sending countries to protect the rights of their citizens overseas.
  3. Meaningful Dialogue with CSOs – In pursuance of the people-oriented community described in ASEAN 2025: Forging Ahead Together, we urge ASEAN to continue an informed and meaningful dialogue with CSOs, including trade unions and migrant-led associations, throughout the follow-up process, notably in relation to the formulation of its action plan and subsequent monitoring and reporting of its implementation.
  4. Inclusive Approach to Rights Protection – In the GMS, where countries share long land borders and where migration is characterised by its mixed nature, it is difficult to identify migrant workers “who become undocumented through no fault of their own”.  We urge ASEAN states to take the reality of migration in the region into consideration, avoid criminalising undocumented migrants, and be inclusive in its approach to applying rights protection, such as by recognising migrant workers’ right to a family life. Moreover, given notable absence of ASEAN policies on refugee protection, we urge ASEAN to adhere to the principle of non-refoulment and provide protection to the most vulnerable members of the migrant population who are in need of protection.
  5. Uphold the Principle of Non-discrimination – We welcome the fact that the Consensus undertakes to adhere to the principle of fair treatment with respect to gender and nationality. We urge ASEAN to take pro-active steps to ensure that this principle of non-discrimination is upheld broadly, including, but not limited to, at the time of recruitment, in workplaces, when accessing social services and when accessing justice systems. For example, we would urge Member States to pay special attention to the principles of fair treatment and non-discrimination in relation to meeting mandatory “health requirements” of receiving states. Such screening should be carried out with the sole purpose of protecting public health by preventing the spread of communicable diseases and not for the purpose of discriminating against certain populations, including, but not limited to, pregnant women and people living with HIV.


Finally, MMN wishes to reiterate the significant contribution made by migrant workers – both professional and low paid workers – in the region. While ASEAN is moving towards easing restrictions on the movement of professional workers in the region, migration policies for low paid workers, who are the majority of the work force in the region, remain restrictive. We would like to highlight the findings from the recent World Bank report, Migrating for Opportunities, which states that easing restrictions on labour migration in ASEAN can boost workers’ welfare and deepen regional economic integration.[3] We hope that ASEAN will take this finding into consideration when formulating migration policies and work towards easing restrictions on labour migration. After all, we hope that ASEAN is moving towards achieving the “caring and sharing” community to which all members of society, including migrant workers and their families, feel they belong.


Mekong Migration Network (MMN), launched in 2003, is a network of civil society organisations and research institutes promoting and protecting the rights of migrant workers and their families in the Greater Mekong Subregion. MMN currently has over 40 member organisations, and carries out collaborative research, policy monitoring, advocacy and capacity building. For more information about MMN, visit:

For inquiries about this statement, please contact:

Reiko Harima, MMN Regional Coordinator

(Email or Tel +852 93692244)

Omsin Boonlert (Thai and English), MMN Research and Advocacy Officer

(Email or Tel +66(53)283259 or +66 869238313)


Download PDF version here.



[1] Task Force on ASEAN Migrant Workers (TF-AMW), 2009.

[2] Ibid, page 9.

[3]Mauro Testaverde, Harry Moroz, Claire H. Hollweg, and Achim Schmillen, Migrating to Opportunity: Overcoming Barriers to Labor Mobility in Southeast Asia, World Bank, 2017, page 5.



The ASEAN Consensus on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers

The ASEAN Consensus on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers signed at the 31st ASEAN Summit in Manila, Philippines.

Following the signing of the ASEAN Consensus, an action plan will be developed by the ASEAN Committee on Migrant Workers.

For the full document, click here.


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