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15 May 2024 |
Meet the Co-Chairs of the Bali Process Technical Experts Group on Returns and Reintegration

The Bali Process Technical Experts Group on Returns and Reintegration brings together practitioners and experts from Bali Process Member States and Organisations who are working to support the timely, safe and dignified return of migrants who wish to return to their countries of origin, and enhance the effectiveness of return as a strategy to address irregular migration. It is co-chaired by the governments of Australia and The Republic of the Philippines.


Following the 6th Meeting of the Technical Experts Group on Returns and Reintegration (TEG-RR) held in Bangkok over 4-6 March 2024, the Regional Support Office of the Bali Process (RSO) sat down with Co-Chairs Bernard P. Olalia—Undersecretary for Licensing and Adjudication Services, Department of Migrant Workers in the Philippine Government, and David Gavin—Assistant Secretary, Compliance and Community Protection Policy, Department of Home Affairs in Australia.

In this short interview, Bernard Olalia and David Gavin share their insights on how discussions and regional priorities agreed at the 6th TEG-RR will guide the development of a Forward Work Plan for the TEG-RR to provide a framework for coordinated regional efforts.


What is the significance of the 6th TEG-RR meeting?

Bernard P. Olalia

There is a recent study by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) which says that out of 40 million trafficking victims worldwide, two-thirds of these victims come from the Asia Pacific region, with the largest countries of origin being the Philippines, Viet Nam, and Malaysia.[1] For our region, we need to explore best practices of both origin and destination countries in addressing prevailing issues of irregular migration.

The main objective of the TEG-RR in the near-term is to reinvigorate members of the Bali Process to jointly address issues of returns and reintegration. We need to coordinate and collaborate across TEG-RR members, and with other Bali Process Working Groups, to progress objectives set in the Adelaide Strategy for Cooperation.

With this in mind, we look forward to progressing a Forward Work Plan for TEG-RR, identifying priorities in accordance with national, regional and global trends across the Bali Process region. When we go back to our respective countries after this meeting, we could also disseminate the experiences that each country shared and continue conversations around formulating policy developments to be suited to the dynamic landscape of returns and reintegration.

Some of the areas for focus we discussed over the two days included improving identification procedures for returnees and the necessity for enhanced cooperation among various institutional points-of-contact. Other areas for priority include facilitating access to civil registration, employment or income-generating activities for returnees, which can strengthen reintegration into communities and deter further re-migration attempts.



David Gavin

The TEG-RR was conceptualised in 2016 and officially launched in 2018. But less than two years later, the COVID-19 pandemic struck, resulting in huge, large-scale movement and returns of people to their country of origin, particularly within the Bali Process region.

Countries had to adapt during the pandemic and reflect on their returns and reintegration policies. We need to learn from those experiences now, bearing in mind the emergence of new disruptive factors including climate change and technology-driven irregular movements of people. We need to take this discussion to the next level and benefit from the lessons learnt.

It was great to see TEG-RR members represented at the meeting who are frontline workers in service of their citizens. And it was particularly pleasing to hear some of their reflections on success stories around return and reintegration into communities.  I concur with Undersecretary Olalia on the importance of delivering a Forward Work Plan from the outcomes of this meeting so we can keep improving coordinated responses, in service of individuals who can benefit from this work.


The Philippines has recently taken up the role of Co-Chair of this Working Group for the second time. Can you tell us more about your thoughts and priorities for the upcoming two years?

Bernard P. Olalia

Having the Philippines’ leadership of the TEG-RR is essential, as we have a lot of best practices to share.

In 2018, when the TEG-RR was first established, the inaugural Co-Chair from the Philippines was Undersecretary Hans Leo Cacdac, who is now the Officer in Charge of the Secretary of the Department of Migrant Workers.

The establishment of the Department of Migrant Workers in 2021 by the Philippine Government recognises the important role of Filipino overseas workers and migrants and acknowledges them at the forefront of government priorities and efforts. Considering this, it is crucial to address all prevailing issues that affect them, especially the issue of trafficking in persons.

One of the major priorities of the Philippine Government, especially for Department of Migrant Workers, is support for a full-cycle of reintegration for migrant workers. Strong policies that offer protection for citizens, and data and records around individuals seeking to migrate for work and their family situations is crucial. We provide support on financial literacy, and education and resources about different countries and their social and economic situations.

Other countries can learn from the Philippines’ approaches and best practices around protecting its migrant workers and other persons abroad.

David Gavin

This is indeed a very important time to have the Philippines co-chair TEG-RR again, and an opportunity to learn from the major structural reform that has taken place in the Philippines with the creation of the new Department of Migrant Workers.

Australia and the Philippines enjoy a strong partnership, and together we are also members of other Bali Process Working Groups including the Working Group on Trafficking in Persons and the Working Group on Disruption of Criminal Networks Involved in People Smuggling and Trafficking in Persons.  Providing synergy and join-up across these groups is crucial to ensure effective responses.

The Philippines’ leadership by example is a critical driving force in moving forward with the initiatives of the TEG-RR and other Bali Process Working Groups. We are looking forward to driving the new Forward Work Plan, and to working closely with TEG-RR members to take forward joint ambitions that can help provide safer migration approaches and support for returning migrants.



What do you hope the new TEG-RR Forward Work Plan will achieve, and what outcomes do you hope to see in the coming years?

David Gavin

Our activities across governments are all inter-related in the cycle of returns and reintegration. Reflecting on the emerging challenges mentioned earlier, it is important for the TEG-RR to develop a sustainable model through our Forward Work Plan that can leverage the experiences and expertise of each of the TEG-RR working group members.

For the TEG-RR, we are also keen to work closely across the Bali Process ecosystem, working closely with the RSO and harnessing the multiplier effect of four working groups working in synergy to help everyone move forward together.

We’ve progressed some early deliverables through a desktop review of existing policy guidelines in the region on returns and reintegration. Through our new Forward Work Plan, we hope to add more concrete activities to support regional efforts.

Bernard P. Olalia

I agree with my Co-Chair. Our TEG-RR Forward Work Plan will ensure alignment with the initiatives of other Bali Process Working Groups, so that the outcomes of our joint efforts will be relevant and valuable to each individual country’s experiences and priorities.



[1] The Impact Of Covid-19 On Trafficking In Persons Trends And Inter-institutional Response In Asia And The Pacific, IOM, 2020