World

Indonesia, Australia agree
on asylum seeker plan

Same direction: President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (left) looks on as Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd speaks during a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, Wednesday. Both head of states said they have reached agreement on a plan to stem the flow of asylum seekers who stop in Indonesia before heading for Australian territory - an issue that has increased tension between the countries. AP/Mark Graham
Same direction: President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (left) looks on as Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd speaks during a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, Wednesday. AP/Mark Graham

Indonesia's president and Australia's prime minister said Wednesday they have reached agreement on a plan to stem the flow of asylum seekers who stop in Indonesia before heading for Australian territory - an issue that has increased tension between the countries.

Neither President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono nor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd revealed details of the agreement, but said it involves better cooperation on border and immigration management and prevention of people-smuggling operations. Indonesia also plans to introduce a law this year criminalizing people smuggling, the leaders said.

"The handling of the boat people issue is very complex," Yudhoyono said after meeting with Rudd. "It relates to matters relating to the law, to security and to humanitarian issues - and that is why we need to coordinate and cooperate very closely."

Australia's government has come under increasing pressure domestically to find a solution to the surge in asylum seekers arriving by boat in Australian waters over the past year. Sri Lankans, Afghans and Iraqis seeking a better life in Australia frequently use Indonesia as a launching point for their journey.

The new agreement includes a plan for how asylum seekers will be relocated once they are intercepted by border patrol agents, Yudhoyono said.

"This will enhance and intensify our cooperation on dealing with the complex regional and global challenge," Rudd said.

Yudhoyono said the countries needed to work together to resolve the problem.

"Australia as a destination country and Indonesia as a transit country cannot resolve this issue by ourselves," Yudhoyono said. "Every country must be on board on this."

Yudhoyono, making his first official trip to Australia, was to address both houses of Australia's Parliament later Wednesday, a rare honor generally reserved for the leaders of countries that the government considers of key importance. President Barack Obama is expected to receive the same honor when he visits later this month.

Earlier, Rudd presented Yudhoyono with an Australian-made acoustic guitar on which Yudhoyono's initials were inscribed.

On Tuesday, Governor-General Quentin Bryce awarded Yudhoyono Australia's highest civilian honor for his dedication to improving ties between the countries.

Yudhoyono was to fly from Canberra to Sydney on Wednesday night to meet with business leaders.

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