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The overlooked soft power of migrants

by Pranoto Iskandar and François Crépeau
6 January, 2016
Indonesia’s ratification of the International Convention on the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (ICMW) is a laudable step for the promotion and protection of human rights in South East Asia.

It signals Indonesia’s intention to take better care of the rights of Indonesian workers abroad, as well as of the rights of non-citizens in Indonesia.

The national government, regional administrations and cities should start to collaborate toward creating a “national plan on migration management”, which would take advantage of the experience and expertise that all levels of government could contribute and would make the human rights of migrants its golden thread.

Better preparing emigrating workers should be an important objective.

A more proactive attitude in the protection of each of its workers abroad, through a more robust use of diplomacy and legal challenges in destination countries would also help.

Indonesia can now be considered, together with the Philippines, a force for good on the issue of migrants’ rights. This soft power potential could be harnessed by a permanent coalition of countries of origin to push for stricter enforcement of migrants’ rights at regional and global levels.

In its response to the Rohingya crisis, Indonesia could also show the way toward better protection and promotion of the human rights of refugees in the region. Recognizing refugees as such and not treating them simply as irregular migrants would be a promising first step.

Indonesia could move toward integrating refugees, as they wait for resettlement, into local communities, and even consider giving access to Indonesian citizenship.

Entering talks with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees with a view to ratifying the 1951 Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugee’s would also send an encouraging signal to all stakeholders in the region.

The ratification would demonstrate Indonesia’s readiness to engage with the international community and to learn from best practices in the management of cross-border labor migration.

Migration is a global challenge from which there is much to gain if it is well governed, in a holistic way, and if each country is ready to learn from others, as well as to show moral, political and legal leadership on the rights of migrants.

This op-ed originally appeared in the Jakarta Post.

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