Successive Australian governments have invested heavily in efforts to combat people smuggling and human trafficking in Southeast Asia. In 2002, Australia helped establish the Bali Process on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime, which it co-chairs with Indonesia. Since its inception, progress has been made in efforts to establish a stronger anti-trafficking regime in the region. For example, nine of the ten member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have strengthened their respective national anti-trafficking legislation. However, much work remains to be done.
At the Sixth Bali Process Ministerial Conference on 23 March 2016, the Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi criticised the Process for its failure to address the Andaman Sea refugee crisis in 2015, sparked by the forced migration of thousands of Rohingyas fleeing Myanmar and Bangladesh. When it was established in 2002, the Bali Process was a regional response to irregular migration, and was not intended to deal with forced migration of refugees. Nevertheless, Marsudi’s comments underline the need for regional efforts to tackle people smuggling and human trafficking to keep pace with the evolving situation in the region.
The aim of this working paper is to assess the progress that has been made in establishing a stronger regime for tackling human trafficking in Southeast Asia and to highlight gaps in these efforts that might provide a focus for Australian assistance in the future. The paper begins with a brief overview of current trafficking trends in the region. It then assesses anti-trafficking legislation in force in all ASEAN member states. The final section of the paper identifies areas where Australia can help to further strengthen the anti-trafficking regime in the region.