Rescued boatpeople will not land in Australia – govt
Reuters, October 28, 2009
Sydney (Reuters) — Australia insisted on Wednesday that 78 Sri Lankan asylum seekers rescued by one of its customs ship would not be brought to Australia, despite media reports that Indonesian officials had refuse to accept the boatpeople.
'There is an agreement between Australia and the government of Indonesian that the people who were rescued in the open seas will go to Indonesia and be processed … that is what will occur,' Foreign Minister Stephen Smith told local radio.
'It is not a matter for the Sri Lankans onboard to decide where they make their application for refugee status. We absolutely defend their right to make that application, but they were picked up on the high seas, it is not their choice.'
A rise in boatpeople arrivals this year has created a political headache for Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, a year out from an election, as asylum seekers are a hot-button political issue with Australian voters. Rudd has sought help from Jakarta and other neighbours over the politically sensitive issue.
Australian media reported an Indonesian provincial governor has refused to allow the Sri Lankans off the Oceanic Viking customs ship, which rescued them 10 days ago, saying Indonesia was not a dumping ground for other countries.
Indonesian officials told Reuters on Tuesday the Australian ship would be taken to a navy base and the Sri Lankans transferred to the Tanjung Pinang immigration detention centre.
Australian media said the reported stand-off meant Rudd's efforts to stop the flow of boatpeople reaching Australia, in part by funding Indonesian detention centres, was now in chaos.
Rudd and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono held talks last week about a pact to combat people trafficking, including more aid for Jakarta in return for interception in Indonesia of Australia-bound asylum boats.
Indonesia's navy recently intercepted another boat carrying 260 Sri Lankans off the Java coast after Rudd spoke directly with Indonesia's president over the issue.
Rudd has defended the so-called 'Indonesian solution' of detention and processing asylum seekers in Indonesia on the basis it may prevent perilous sea journeys by boatpeople.
Indon won't use force on asylum seekers
The Australian Associated Press, October 29, 2009
Indonesia will not force 78 Sri Lankan asylum seekers to disembark from an Australian Customs ship and into a detention centre, the nation's foreign minister says.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has not ruled out the use of force to offload the 78 people, including five women and five children, who have spent their 10th day aboard the Oceanic Viking anchored off the Indonesian island of Bintan.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa left a resolution of the crisis up to the Australian government, saying Indonesia would violate international laws if it forced the asylum seekers off the boat.
'It's their choice to leave the boat concerned, and we are not in a position to force them off the boat,' he told ABC TV on Wednesday night.
'In the final analysis, if they refuse to leave the boat, then this is a fact that the Australian government must take into account.'
But Indonesia would not set a deadline on a resolution to the crisis, Mr Natalegawa said.
'As far as we are concerned … we have an abundance of patience in how to deal with this issue,' he said.
'This is already a very difficult humanitarian situation obviously, and we wish to cooperate very closely with the Australian authorities to try to find a good solution to this.'
Mr Rudd maintained the group would be handed over to Indonesian authorities.
'The Australian government is working closely with Indonesian authorities to facilitate the safe transfer of passengers to land,' he told parliament on Wednesday.
However, it remains unclear exactly when the transfer of the asylum seekers to the Tanjung Pinang detention facility will take place.
As the coalition continued to seek details of the deal between Canberra and Jakarta to take the group and whether Mr Rudd was personally involved, the prime minister would not rule out force being used to remove the asylum seekers from the Oceanic Viking.
'We are dealing with a complex and difficult and challenging set of circumstances,' Mr Rudd said.
'I have confidence that our men and women who are working in these professional agencies will discharge their professional responsibilities with the greatest degree of skill and tact and humanity that they can, but this is a very difficult situation.'
Opposition immigration spokeswoman Sharman Stone said Australian officials on the Oceanic Viking were 'probably going to be forced into a very ugly, nasty scenario' by having to forcibly remove asylum seekers.
'This is a disaster on every front,' Dr Stone told Sky News.
The prime minister is also under pressure because of the prospect that women and children among the group may be held behind bars at Tanjung Pinang, but he said other accommodation had been arranged for them.
'I'm advised by the Indonesian authorities, or they've advised the government, that women and children will be offered the option of staying in a house near the Tanjung Pinang detention facility,' he said.
But Mr Natalegawa would not rule out placing the women and children in detention, saying only that Indonesia would do everything possible to ensure their welfare.
Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said a solution could be achieved only if the two countries worked together.
'We have had … good cooperation with Indonesia, but we are faced now (with) a heightened challenge,' he told ABC Television on Wednesday night.
'We do not want to leave Indonesia in the lurch, we are not seeking to have them bear the burden by themselves.
'We can only deal with this by working together with them and also with other countries … in our region.'
But he said because the asylum seekers were rescued on the high seas, it was not for them to decide in which country they would make their claim for refugee status.
'I remain hopeful that this can be done in a civilised and dignified way,' he said of the agreement for the asylum seekers to be processed in Indonesia.
Boat crisis worsens for Rudd
By Tom Allard and Michelle Grattan
The Age (Melbourne), October 29, 2009