Between 10 and 11th May 2011, Australia and Sri Lanka Co-chaired the Bali Process Ad Hoc Group: Technical Experts Working Group on Irregular Movement by Air held in Colombo, Sri Lanka.
In attendance were representatives from the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, Australia, India, Republic of Indonesia, Malaysia, Republic of the Maldives, Islamic Republic of Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Kingdom of Thailand, Union of Myanmar, New Zealand, as well as representatives from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The United Kingdom and Canada attended the meeting as observers. The United States of America and Bangladesh was unable to attend.
The purpose of the meeting was to offer participants the opportunity to share information on relevant issues and best practices on how to detect and deter irregular movements by air and deal effectively with people smugglers and re-affirm commitment to the establishment of the Regional Immigration Liaison Officer Network (RILON) in key AHG member states and review the activity of RILON over the last 12 months and way forward.
The co-chairs provided an overview of irregular movement of people worldwide sharing that there are approximately 30-40 million displaced persons worldwide, and countries in the region are hosting significant numbers of displaced people. They projected that the political and economic instability in North Africa and the Middle East may have future impacts on further displacement and irregular movement through the region. It was noted that there has been increased irregular movement activity in the air environment from Afghan, Iranian, Iraqi, and Kurdish nationals and there are expected challenges ahead as the modus operandi of people smugglers becomes more sophisticated.
Special presentations were given by Sri Lanka, IOM and UNHCR on:
- new initiatives with Sri Lanka noting its success in preventing boat departures and efforts to prevent people moving irregularly through the airport,
- exchanging digital information in relations to e-passports and breeder or source documents
- irregular movement patterns indicating dedicated routes utilized by particular nationality groups.
Members reported on current issues faced on irregular migration by air since the last meeting of the Working Group in 2010 updating that challenges include:
- difficulties in managing long and remote land and sea borders,
- measures to improve passport, visa procedures and technical capabilities at immigration borders,
- lack of technical information and intelligence sharing about irregular movements through immigration borders,
- a need to improve training and development of officers.
Updates on the establishment of the Regional Immigration Liaison Officer Network (RILON) included:
- There has been a relatively slow uptake of the RILON concept due to a general lack of understanding around the concept.
- RILON Teams have been established in Bangkok, Canberra and Colombo who have adopted the general RILON principles but continued work guided y the priorities and circumstances of each country.
- Members noted a lack of broader input from the full Bali Process membership and urged the Technical Experts Working group to continue to progress RILON’s establishment through their internal mechanisms.
- RILON should be broadened to include other Bali Process member countries as well as non- Bali Process countries.
Participants agreed on the following:
- Sharing information regularly between Bali Process member states and like-minded countries and agencies is critical to addressing irregular movement of people by air.
- There is value in sharing monthly trends and statistics between member states and when available these will be compiled and made available by DIAC or IOM on the secure Bali Process website and/or RILON email distribution list.
- Participants agreed to nominate a key contact in each local RILON Team or member state – where RILON is not yet established to oversee the network, operation and development.
- India, Pakistan and Malaysia noted commitment to establish, consider the establishment of a RILON and seek approval to establish a RILON Team, respectively.
- Australia and Sri Lanka will develop a revised RILON guidelines to be circulated to the member states for comment by end of June 2011.
- Participants agreed to seek endorsement from the Bali Process Steering Group to re-task the working group to incorporate a broader mandate as opposed to limiting it to irregular air movements.
- Participants agreed to hold meetings of the Technical Working Group on Irregular Movement by Air every six months with the next meeting proposed to be held in Colombo, Sri Lanka in November 2011.