03 January 2012

Indonesian visa changes could cause more asylum arrivals to Australia

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Plans to relax immigration regulations in Indonesia from four Middle Eastern countries could lead to a spike in people trafficking to Australia.

Australian visa

Indonesian relaxations may tempt asylum seekers to risk perilous tides.

Indonesia's plans to relax visa rules for Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan have led to the fear that the new more lax laws could cause a rise in people smuggling operations to Australia. And, with Australian immigration authorities having intercepted two vessels in 2012 already, Australia may have cause for concern. 

Indonesia has long been the major transit point for asylum seekers heading to Australia and, with Afghanistan and Pakistan being regarded as the main sources for asylum seekers, the director-general of immigration with the Law and Human Rights Ministry of Indonesia, Bambang Irawan has admitted that the new policy has the potential "to lure more boat people heading to Australia. Based on our data, they head to Australia. To get there they have to pass our country." 

The policy's relaxation is considered to come in the wake of the sinking of a vessel bound for Australia in December 2011 in which as many as 200 asylum seekers died. Roughly 250 people, mainly from Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan were crammed aboard the 25 metre vessel which had a safe capacity of just 100. The boat sank after crashing into four metre high waves 40 nautical miles off the coast of Java; only 47 asylum seekers survived the accident. 

However, Irawan claimed that Indonesia already had "sufficient regulations" in place to reduce people smuggling activities and that visa applications would be processed in Indonesian embassies in the countries of origin. 

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa also dismissed the concerns and stressed that the relaxed rules are intended to increase tourism and foster business relationships between Indonesia and the four countries. 

Australia may need not to worry, as Irawan maintains that "this is a regional issue that will need co-operation between the transit and destination countries eyed by the people smugglers" and that strict security factors would be taken into account as Indonesia remains committed to combating the flow of asylum seekers. 

"We will see what the progress is in the future and evaluate".


The Australian Visa Bureau is an independent migration consultancy specialising in helping people apply for an Australia visa with the Australian Embassy.

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