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Abstract

The Andaman Sea crisis of 2015 focused global attention on asean’s response to mass refugee flows and generated calls for greater regional cooperation to protect the rights and safety of forced migrants. Such calls draw from the concept of ‘responsibility-sharing’; a concept that has long underpinned the international refugee regime. Scholars have responded to this challenge by identifying a range of ways in which asean countries might benefit from sharing responsibility for the refugees and asylum-seekers in their region. Based on interviews with 40 key asean-based actors working on migration and refugee issues across the governmental and non-governmental sectors, this article seeks to understand how the concept of responsibility-sharing for refugee protection is understood in four Southeast Asian countries: Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore. While it finds common agreement among the interviewees that the Andaman Sea crisis was a humanitarian disaster and that existing approaches to refugee issues in the region are ineffective, it also finds little to suggest that a regional approach to refugee issues is likely to develop in the short-to-medium term. On the other hand, interviewees identified a wide range of mechanisms through which bilateral, multilateral and global initiatives might assist the region to deal with refugee and asylum issues. Linking refugee issues with other issues that concern asean Member States and incremental progress towards embedding regional human rights norms via asean human rights institutions are identified as the most fruitful pathways towards regional cooperation to protect refugee rights and safety.

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In: Asia-Pacific Journal on Human Rights and the Law