IOM Supported AICHR-led ASEAN Forum on Human Rights at Sea to Strengthen Migrant Fishers Protection

Participants during the conference / Credit: IOM 2023
Participants during the Forum/Credit: IOM 2023

On the occasion of commemorating the International Day of Migrants on 18 December, the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) with the support of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), Indonesian Ocean Justice Initiative (IOJI), and International Justice Mission (IJM) hosted the ASEAN Forum on Human Rights at Sea: Ensuring Decent Work for Migrant Fishers on 14-15 December 2023 in Jakarta. The Forum was attended by more than 60 participants offline and online, representing government and non-government organizations in ASEAN Member States, including civil society organizations, universities, migrant fishers, the union of migrant fishers, and the private sector.  

During the opening session, the Chair and Representative of Indonesia to AICHR, Yuyun Wahyuningrum shared her concern on the fact that human rights abuses at sea are frequently not reported, or remedied, and migrant fishers remain vulnerable to exploitative and abusive labour practices. “The migrant fishers are subject to harsh and dangerous working conditions, as well as forced labour situation due to the challenging nature of the maritime environment”.   

She further emphasized on the importance to put forward human rights values as a solution to address the issues faced by migrant fishers because human rights protection should be applicable at sea the same as they do on land.  

The purpose of the Forum was to provide a platform for dialogue among relevant actors on issues related to human rights and migration, particularly on the protection of migrant fishers, and to formulate recommendations for the development of the Guidelines on the Implementation of the ASEAN Declaration on the Placement and Protection of Migrant Fishers, following the Declaration made by the ASEAN Head of States back in May 2023.  

Accordingly, the Forum included a discussion on the intersectional issues of human rights at sea such as irregular mixed migration, and people trafficking, business and human rights, and vulnerabilities of migrant fishers, the existing responses, gaps, and challenges as well as promising practices or opportunities to enhance protection at sea.  

As one of the ways to strengthen the migrant fishers protection, IOM representative, Among Resi, mentioned IOM’s recommendation to the ASEAN member states to review and revise their policies and regulation and uphold the principles of non-discrimination, gender-sensitive and responsive, by recognizing also the vulnerability of migrant fishers, as well as to enhance the data collection and management pertaining to migrant fishers and their families. 

Furthermore, IOM also highlighted that in order to effectively implement the ASEAN Guidelines, intersectional issues on the protection of migrant fishers and cross-sectoral cooperation at the national and regional level should be strengthened, including by exercising the feasibility of regional and cross-regional referral mechanisms on the protection of migrant fishers.  

The Forum also gathered the aspirations, experiences, and stories directly from the migrant fishers survivors of trafficking and forced labour overseas, through which they helped the Forum to further identify the vulnerabilities borne by migrant fishers throughout the whole migration cycle – from the pre-employment to post-return and reintegration stage.  

 Among others, participants came up with the following recommendations to improve the protection of migrant fishers in ASEAN, to include:  

  • To review and revise the national and regional policies and regulations to uphold the principles of non-discrimination, gender-sensitive and responsive, recognize the vulnerability, and ensure right-based approaches, in line with international and ASEAN Standards.  

  • To strengthen access to information, and education, and improve participation, representation, and voices of victims, survivors, and migrant fishers  

  • To improve evidence-based, data collection, promising practices, and sharing  

  • To ensure the establishment of a grievance mechanism for migrant fishers in fishing vessels that are guided by the principles of legitimate, accessible, predictable, equitable, transparent, rights compatible, enabling continuous learning, and based on engagement and dialogue.  

  • To develop technical guidance on cross-border law enforcement, emphasizing international cooperation at bilateral, regional, and multilateral levels.  

  • To provide victim assistance in fishing vessels that are coherent with international standards, including rescue, rehabilitation, restitution, and reintegration as well as a pool of trained interpreters to assist diverse victims and their families.  

  • To build the capacity of law enforcement officers at the national and regional levels on the issue of human trafficking, forced labour, and violation at sea and how to handle the case using the right-based approaches.  

The Forum is part of the AICHR Five-Year Work Plan 2021-2025, and co-organized by AICHR Indonesia and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Indonesia. The support from IOM was made possible through the IOM-Ship to Shore Rights Project, funded by the European Union. 

SDG 8 - Decent Work and Economic Growth
SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities
SDG 16 - Peace Justice and Strong Institutions