Downer To Honour Boat People Obligations

Downer to honour boat people obligations

March 5, 2007 – 7:54AM
The Age (Melbourne)

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer says Australia will honour its international obligations towards the latest boat arrivals, a group of Sri Lankan asylum seekers.

Mr Downer, who is in Indonesia with Attorney-General Philip Ruddock for a counter-terrorism conference, is also expected to hold bilateral talks with his Indonesian counterpart Hassan Wirajuda.

It's expected the two will discuss Australia's recent interception of 83 Sri Lankan asylum seekers.

The fate of the men remains unclear, almost two weeks after they were intercepted by the Australian Navy in international waters.

Australia has asked Indonesia if it would accept the men back, and allow them to be processed by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in Indonesia, where they boarded their wooden vessel.

But Indonesia's Department of Foreign Affairs has said it had made its position clear – that it will accept the men, but will immediately send the men back to Sri Lanka.

Mr Downer said Australia would meet its obligations towards the men.

“If that's right, if the Indonesians don't want the processing to be done here in Indonesia, then we will obviously have to take that into account,” he told reporters on his arrival in the city of Semarang, east of Jakarta.

“We have got our own obligations under the 1951 refugee convention. We will fulfill those obligations, there's no question of that.

“We will have to choose another method of doing that.”

Mr Downer and Mr Ruddock will head to Jakarta on Monday for two-day regional counter-terrorism conference.