Asia

Indonesia, Australia call for talks on asylum-seekers

Published: July 6, 4:02 AM

JAKARTA — President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said yesterday that Indonesia and Australia have agreed to hold a multilateral meeting on asylum-seekers, involving countries where the people come from as well as transit countries and their final destinations.

He said this following a meeting with Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and after an Australian navy vessel went to the aid of a suspected asylum-seeker boat in distress south of Indonesia yesterday.

Indonesia, the world’s largest archipelagic nation with thousands of islands and kilometres of unpatrolled coastline, has become a major transit point for people fleeing from countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Sri Lanka. Hundreds of asylum-seekers have died on hazardous sea journeys from Indonesia to Australia.

Mr Yudhoyono said it was not fair if Indonesia and Australia had to work alone to resolve the problem. “We need effective cooperation and responsibility of all countries, not only Indonesia and Australia,” he said.

Data from the UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency, shows that a growing number of asylum-seekers, especially from Afghanistan, Somalia, Sri Lanka and Myanmar, enter Indonesia each year in search of safer lives.

Mr Rudd, who was on a two-day visit in Indonesia, his first overseas tour since becoming Prime Minister for a second time a week ago, backed Mr Yudhoyono’s initiative.

“This problem of people smuggling is a problem for our entire region,” Mr Rudd said. He is seeking to defuse voter anger at the constant arrivals of asylum-seekers, the most damaging factor threatening to unseat the Labor government at elections scheduled for September.

No schedule for the proposed meeting was set. It would also include countries such as Malaysia and Thailand.

Yesterday, an official at Indonesia’s search and rescue agency, said a boat carrying about 80 asylum-seekers had reported taking on water about 145km off the Indonesian town of Garut on the southern coast of Java.

It was later rescued by a navy patrol ship, the Australian Customs and Border Protection said. AGENCIES