Share asylum burden, Indonesians plead
TOM ALLARD AND KARUNI ROMPIES JAKARTA
The Sydney Morning Herald
November 21, 2009
INDONESIA has begun negotiating a new arrangement to handle asylum seekers with the Rudd Government as the country's foreign affairs minister called on Australia to ''share the burden'' of immigrants streaming through the archipelago.
Its call came as a customs vessel intercepted 53 asylum seekers off north-western Australia yesterday. Last night they were being taken to Christmas Island, along with two crew.
The boat was the fifth this week to make its way into Australian territory, but Indonesia is grappling with a larger influx of asylum seekers that is overwhelming its detention centres.
''We cannot bear the responsibility ourselves,'' said Indonesian Foreign Affairs Minister Marty Natalegawa. ''There should be a sharing of burden.''
Mr Natalegawa said talks had started on an ''implementing framework'' between the two countries that would include measures to try to stop the flow of people from countries such as Sri Lanka and Afghanistan.
It is understood Indonesia wants the agreement to include new commitments from ''destination'' countries such as Australia to take more refugees, together with better law enforcement against people smugglers.
The four week stand-off on the Australian ship Oceanic Viking ended on Thursday, but almost 250 Sri Lankans who were intercepted trying to get to Australia even earlier remain on their boat in dreadful conditions at the port in Merak, refusing to get off and demanding the same treatment as their countrymen who were on the Oceanic Viking.
An Australian refugee activist who boarded the boat yesterday with Indonesian trade unionists and human rights lawyers described conditions as deplorable.
Anthony Main said they heard complaints of inhuman treatment, with many asylum seekers having malaria and complaining that the Indonesian navy would not allow them medical treatment.
Mr Main, the Socialist Party's national organiser, said the group delivered urgently needed supplies to the asylum seekers, including tarpaulins to protect them from worsening weather and fuel for a generator.
Australian Immigration Minister Chris Evans has said the processing and resettlement of the Merak asylum seekers is a matter for Indonesia, even though the boat's interception followed a request from Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to his Indonesian counterpart, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
Privately, Indonesian officials are scathing of Australia's stance. ''The general feeling in Indonesia is that Australia has a moral responsibility not to abandon these people,'' a senior Indonesian Government source said.
With ANDRA JACKSON and BRENDAN NICHOLSON
Source: The Age