Jakarta In Detention Talks With Canberra Over Asylum Seekers

Jakarta in detention talks with Canberra over asylum-seekers

Mark Dodd, Peter Alford
From: The Australian
July 24, 2010 12:00AM

DISCUSSIONS are under way between Canberra and Jakarta on a plan for Australia to pay for new detention centres in Indonesia.

Australian officials have confirmed the plan discussions, intended to help deter asylum-seekers.

A senior federal government official who asked not to be named confirmed yesterday that talks with Jakarta about resolving the asylum-seeker problem included discussion about building new detention centres. No deal had been concluded so far.

The Australian yesterday revealed that Australia could be called on to fund detention centres in Indonesia to help Jakarta deter a flood of asylum-seekers using the nation as a staging point for boat trips to Christmas Island.

Under the plan, Jakarta would lock up all asylum-seekers currently living free in the community, making it harder for them to gain access to people-smugglers.

Indonesian Immigration Department spokesman Maroloan Barimbing said yesterday the plan to detain all asylum-seekers reaching Indonesia had been discussed informally by Indonesian and Australian officials. However, he made it clear that the department was more focused on clarifying Julia Gillard's controversial scheme for a regional processing centre, which could be built in East Timor.

While more than 1000 asylum-seekers are now held in 13 detention centres, more than 1000 more who are seeking entry to Australia are allowed to live outside detention. Moving them into custody would call for a massive infrastructure investment.

A senior Western foreign aid official who is close to the asylum issue said Indonesian security agencies supported the detention centre plan.

“The security ministries in Jakarta don't like undocumented asylum-seekers or refugees living in places like Bogor (in Java),” the official said.

“We would prefer not to see women and children in detention and rather they were housed in the community.”

However, he warned that with 12 detention centres operating in Indonesia, Canberra would need deep pockets if it wanted to make extensive repairs to the facilities.

More than 140 asylum-seeker boats have arrived in Australian waters since 2007, filling the Christmas Island immigration detention centre and other similar facilities to capacity.

The number has increased this year with 81 unauthorised boat arrivals since January carrying a total of 3851 asylum-seekers. That compares with 60 boats last year carrying 2726 asylum-seekers.

The biggest number of asylum-seekers – 44 boats carrying 5516 – arrived in 2001 when John Howard was prime minister.