RI, Aussie discuss people smuggling, detained minors
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Warm greetings: Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa (left) greets his visiting Australian counterpart, Bob Carr, at the Pancasila Building, located within the ministry compound, in Jakarta on Monday. JP/Jerry AdigunaIn what appears to be a response to Australian pleas for Indonesia’s help in tackling the protracted people-smuggling issue, Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa and his Australian counterpart Bob Carr agreed on Monday to intensify measures to tackle the problem.
The meeting, according to several officials, was dominated by matters related to people smuggling, which has long been a contentious political issue in Australia.
The two ministers agreed to begin initiatives on collaboration between the two countries’ search and rescue agencies to deal with boats experiencing emergencies at sea.
Carr, who was appointed foreign minister in March after replacing Kevin Rudd, said he appreciated the deal to enhance cooperation in the search and rescue efforts, particularly those involving boats used by asylum seekers.
He suggested that such collaborative measures would help stem the flow of refugees into Australia through Indonesia. “We’ve focused on search and rescue issues where we will work with Indonesia’s search and rescue agency,” Carr said.
The cooperation comes following a series of tragic incidents involving boats packed with people seeking asylum in Australia. Recently, at least 50 migrants, mostly from the Middle-East, died after their boat sank off Christmas Island, part of Australian territory near the coast of Indonesia.
Carr’s visit came amid heightened pressure from the Australian opposition that has criticized the government for its failure to maximize the partnership with Indonesia, and come up with significant progress in curbing people smuggling.
Marty said Indonesia was a hot bed for people-smuggling syndicates to travel to Australia. “The masterminds behind people smuggling find the geographical conditions in Indonesia conducive to continue their operations,” he said.
“But we are doing our best at the national level, working together with Australia and other friendly countries to disrupt in a serious way their operations,” he added.
Marty said he disagreed with comments saying that the Indonesia-Australia relationship was dysfunctional because of the asylum-seeker issue. “The asylum issue is [only one] dimension in our bilateral relations, and I’m certainly not going to allow this issue to define the nature of our relations,” he said.
However, Australia’s demand for Indonesia to play a greater role in preventing people smuggling came at a price. Marty said he also used the meeting to talk about the fate of Indonesian minors currently in Australian detention.
“On the matter of Indonesian minors, obviously we still have pending issues, for example, we still have differences in the number of Indonesian minors in Australian immigration centers,” Marty said.
“We need to have a relatively reliable figure that matches one another’s data. We also need to have a modality to ascertain their actual ages,” he added.
He said he appreciated the Australian government in its efforts concerning Indonesian minors.
“I must say that since November 2011, we now have far better ways of addressing the issue in comparison to the past. It is also important to prevent recurrences of similar situations in the future,” Marty said.
Data from the Foreign Ministry showed that, as of Monday, as many as 409 Indonesian sailors, including 34 minors, were in Australian detention on people-smuggling charges.
The total figure showed a decrease from 54 minors earlier this month. At that time, Australian officials said that 79 Indonesian crew members were in its detention centers, many of whom claimed to be minors.
The meeting was a follow-up to the bilateral talks between President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard in Darwin, Australia, last week.