The Bali Process on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime serves as the Australia’s chief diplomatic forum for developing immediate and long-term regional solutions aimed at tackling the phenomenon of migrant smuggling (or ‘people smuggling’ as it is referred to in Australian law).

Following a spike of unauthorised arrivals by boat in Australian between 1999-2001 and the so-called Tampa Affair of August 2001, the Australian Government came to realise that in order to combat migrant smuggling and prevent the arrival of irregular migrants, it would need to cooperate with other countries in the region, especially Indonesia, the principal transit point for smuggled migrants en route to Australia.  Between February 26 and 28, 2002, the Governments of Australia and Indonesia hosted a regional ministerial conference in Bali, Indonesia to address the growing scale and complexity of irregular migration in the Asia Pacific region.  This first ministerial meeting marks the beginning of what has become known as the Bali Process. 

The Bali Process is led by a Steering Group of four countries (Australia, Indonesia, New Zealand, and Thailand) as well as UNHCR and IOM.  Australia and Indonesia, represented by their respective Foreign Ministers, also act as co-chairs of the Steering Group.  Today, the Bali Process is comprised of 43 countries, mostly from the Asia Pacific region.  In addition, several European and North American countries and a range of international organisations have observers status.

The stated purpose of the Bali Process is:

to raise awareness of, encourage cooperative action and develop practical regional measures to prevent, intercept and disrupt people smuggling, human trafficking and transnational crime.[1]

Specific objectives of the Bali Process include:

  1. The development of more effective information and intelligence sharing;
  2. Improved cooperation among regional law enforcement agencies to deter and combat people smuggling and trafficking networks; 
  3. Enhanced cooperation on border and visa systems to detect and prevent illegal movements; 
  4. Increased public awareness in order to discourage these activities and warn those susceptible; 
  5. Enhanced effectiveness of return as a strategy to deter people smuggling and trafficking through conclusion of appropriate arrangements; 
  6. Cooperation in verifying the identity and nationality of illegal migrants and trafficking victims; 
  7. The enactment of national legislation to criminalise people smuggling and trafficking in persons; 
  8. Provision of appropriate protection and assistance to the victims of trafficking, particularly women and children; 
  9. Enhanced focus on tackling the root causes of illegal migration, including by increasing opportunities for legal migration between states; and 
  10. Assisting countries to adopt best practices in asylum management, in accordance with the principles of the Refugee Convention.[2]

Successive Australian Governments from both sides of politics have invested substantial financial resources, and political capital, in the Bali Process.  In June 2004, for instance, Mr Alexander Downer, Australia’s then Minister for Foreign Affairs, described the Bali Process as an ‘integral’ organisation which had generated ‘numerous and significant’ achievements.[3]  Equally, the incumbent Minister, Mr Kevin Rudd, regards the Bali Process as vital and said in June 2011 that he was told by UNHCR that ‘all regions of the world are striving towards a comparable agreement’.[4]

Research undertaken by the Migrant Smuggling Working Group in 2011-12 provides an analysis of the formation, function, and fertility of this forum and, specifically its efforts to combat the smuggling of migrants in the Asia Pacific Region.  The analysis shows that the policy focus of the Bali Process has been dominated by border security imperatives, while the human rights and refugee aspects of migrant smuggling have not been equally explored.  A closer examination reveals that while the Bali Process has been a useful forum for facilitatingdialogue on policy formulation, it has achieved few concrete outcomes has had no immediate impact on the levels and patterns of migrant smuggling in the Asia Pacific region.  But the Bali Process has served the interest of its chief advocate — that is the Australian Government — well, and it has created an ongoing, high-level forum for discussion of a topic that prior to the inception of the Bali Process did not feature prominently in international affairs and cooperation in this region.

To read the full report click here [pdf].