03 July 2012

Julia Gillard meets Indonesian president to discuss people smuggling

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Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has met with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to discuss the effect the ongoing asylum seeking issue is having on the two countries.

Australia immigration

Prime Minister Julia Gillard and President Yudhoyono have agreed to work together to tackle people smuggling.

Ms Gillard and President Yudhoyono met in Darwin to discuss how best to address the ongoing problem which has dominated Australian politics since the capsizing of two separate Australia-bound boats in Indonesian waters last month which resulted in the deaths of an estimated 90 people.

Asylum seeking

Asylum seeking has remained a controversial topic in Australia since the governing Labor Party abandoned its predecessors' policies upon taking parliament. Without a suitable deterrent in place, irregular arrivals, mainly by boats departing from Indonesia, have steadily increased in the past four years.

The government attempted to tackle the situation by introducing the Malaysia Solution, a people swap deal with Malaysia which would see 800 asylum seekers exchanged with Malaysia for 4,000 refugees. However, the proposal was struck down by the High Court last year and arrivals have reached new levels of frequency ever since, finally reaching an all time high last month.

Attempts to find a solution to the issue stalled in January when talks between the government and opposition broke down and politicians have been exchanging insults since but the issue returned to the forefront of the political agenda following the sinking of the two boats.

Solutions

Both the government and the opposition want to reinstate the controversial policy of offshore processing. The government has continued its efforts to allow offshore processing in Malaysia yet needs the assistance of the opposition to rewrite legislation to allow the bill to avoid obstruction from the High Court again. However, the opposition refuses to allow offshore processing in any country which is not a signatory of the UN's Refugee Convention, which Malaysia is not.

Meanwhile the opposing Coalition wants to reinstate offshore processing on the Pacific Island nation of Nauru but as their policy also includes making concerted efforts to turn asylum seeking boats around and reinstating the temporary protection visa policy which has attracted significant criticism in the past, the government refuses to cooperate.

Both parties may also require the assistance of the Australian Greens to pass any legislation but as the Greens oppose offshore processing of any kind, the deadlock has continued.

Debate

The parliament desperately fought to find a solution before politicians departed for their winter break but despite a private members' bill introduced by independent MP Rob Oakeshott which allowed offshore processing in both Malaysia and Nauru making it through the House of Representatives, the bill was struck down in the Senate and parliament disbanded for the six week break without a solution.

Indonesia

Ms Gillard has since met with President Yudhoyono to discuss better ways to handle the situation, agreeing to cooperate better on search and rescue operations and the prosecution of people smugglers.

"I welcome the strong cooperation we have with Indonesia on people smuggling, including Indonesia's law enforcement efforts against people smuggling syndicates," said the prime minister.

Indonesia's efforts to tackle the issue, including relaxing the restrictions on several source countries of asylum seekers and recommending the release of several adolescents arrested in Australia for people smuggling, have attracted some criticism in Australia but President Yudhoyono insisted Australia was not the only country suffering from the issue.

"Indonesia is also a victim of acts of illegal people smuggling. We hope that we can prevent as far as possible acts of people smuggling in our region," said President Yudhoyono.

Arrest

The two leaders' discussions were buoyed by the news of the arrest of an alleged people smuggler suspected of organising at least one of the two boats which capsized last month.

Indonesian National Police confirmed that a man known as Evran, or alternatively as Haji Irfan, was arrested in Jakarta last week. Early reports indicate that the man, 19, confessed to coordinating four illegal boat trips from Indonesia to Australia, including the disastrous journey on 21 June which led to as many as 90 deaths.

An Indonesian police officer who is involved with the investigation claimed that Irfan was part of a widespread human trafficking network with contacts in Australia and Pakistan. The officer said Irfan claimed to have had a contact onboard the capsized vessel.

"He was controlled from Pakistan and Australia," said the officer. "He was an immigrant organiser along with another Afghan who is now in Christmas Island after he was rescued from the boat that sank."

Indonesian authorities are reportedly still investigating whether the man had any involvement with the second boat's sinking.


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