IOJI appreciated the Indonesian government’s role as the chair of ASEAN this year for advocating the adoption of the declaration on the protection of migrant fishermen.
The member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have finally signed a declaration on the protection of migrant fishermen.
The adoption of the ASEAN Declaration on the Protection of Migrant Fishers is of great importance due to the exploitation, modern slavery, and even human trafficking experienced by migrant fishermen from and/or working within ASEAN territories and on vessels flying flags of non-ASEAN countries (IOM Indonesia, Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, and Coventry University, 2016; Scalabrini Migration Center, 2020; ILO, 2020).
In line with President of Indonesia Joko Widodo’s commitment to combating human trafficking in the discussion of the ASEAN Summit 2023, which took place on May 8, 2023, the protection of migrant fishermen should be a priority for the Indonesian government.
As one of the largest source regions of migrant fishermen worldwide, ASEAN lacks accurate data on the number of migrant fishermen, given the non-procedural placements in this sector. ILO (2022) noted that around 125,000 migrant fishermen working on vessels in Japan, the Republic of Korea, Thailand, and Taiwan are from ASEAN member countries.
Therefore, ASEAN has significant bargaining power to ensure better protection for migrant fishermen in the global capture fisheries industry.
Until now, migrant fishermen had not been specifically addressed in existing ASEAN forums. There is no cooperation mechanism among ASEAN member states in addressing the exploitation and human trafficking cases experienced by ASEAN migrant fishermen.
The existing ASEAN instruments, such as the ASEAN Consensus on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers and the ASEAN Declaration of Human Rights, are still oriented towards land-based workers and do not address the vulnerabilities of migrant fishermen.
Although not legally binding (non-binding), this declaration will encourage the inclusion of migrant fishermen protection agendas in ASEAN policies and cooperation mechanisms concerning migration and human rights among ASEAN member states.
This declaration is a first step for ASEAN to enhance cooperation among member states regarding the protection of ASEAN migrant fishermen.
Priority cooperation areas include (i) monitoring and law enforcement, (ii) sharing of information on migrant fishermen cases, including human trafficking cases, while considering privacy aspects, (iii) setting decent work standards on fishing vessels and ensuring occupational health and safety on these vessels, (iv) access to justice, including restitution for migrant fishermen, (v) repatriation and reintegration of migrant fishermen, and (vi) certification and recognition of migrant fishermen’s skills.