Just two weeks after a bilateral meeting between President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in Bogor, West Java, the Indonesian government has said that it will stop issuing visa on arrivals ( VOA ) to Iranians, many of whom traveled through Indonesia to get to Australia.
Maryoto Hadi, a spokesman from the Law and Human Rights Ministry for the immigration office, said on Thursday that minister Amir Syamsuddin had signed a decree revoking the visa on arrival facility for Iranians that would go into effect on Aug. 20.
'Many Iranians are misusing such visa facilities. They did not come here for tourism purposes, but used Indonesia as a transit point before seeking asylum in Australia and for drug smuggling,' he said as quoted by The Associated Press on Friday.
Also on Friday, Australia announced tough new measures to stem a dramatic increase in refugee boats from Indonesia, with a new deal to send all boat arrivals to Papua New Guinea ( PNG ) for assessment and eventual settlement.
'From now on, any asylum seeker who arrives in Australia by boat will have no chance of settling in Australia as refugees,' Rudd said as quoted by Reuters, adding that anyone assessed to be a refugee would be permanently settled in PNG.
The Law and Human Rights Ministry last year said it was reviewing the VOA facility for Iranians on the grounds that it was subject to abuse in accommodating the inflow of asylum seekers and drug dealers into the archipelago.
Iran accounts for the largest amount of drugs confiscated in the country, followed by Malaysia and China, according to the National Narcotics Agency ( BNN ).
Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa at the time dismissed the Law and Human Rights Ministry's claim, saying that a decision to grant Iran the VOA facility was made after meticulous and prudent considerations.
Contacted separately on Friday, Marty denied claims made by foreign media that the government's decision to stop issuing Iranians VOAs was based on a request from Australia. 'No, that is not true,' he told The Jakarta Post via text message.
Presidential spokesman Teuku Faizasyah said he did not know if Australia was behind the policy, but acknowledged that the VOA facility was reviewed annually and that many Iranians had misused the facility.
According to the BNN, authorities arrested 158 drug dealers last year, 5 percent of whom were foreign nationals, primarily Iranian, and distributed more drugs than locally based dealers, it said.
Iranian Embassy spokesman Ali Pahlevi Rad said on Friday that he could not comment on the government's decision to scrap Iran from the list of countries allowed to use the VOA facility. 'We have not seen any formal announcement or ratification, so we are still waiting to hear from the Indonesian government,' he told the Post.
In light of the decision to revoke the facility, Marwoto said that the government would continue to issue visas to Iranians who qualified after applying at Indonesian embassies overseas.
Indonesia has granted the VOA facility to more than 60 countries, including Iran, in a bid to boost tourism by making it easier for foreigners from those nations to obtain visas for US$25 at 15 airports and 21 seaports upon arrival.
According to immigration office figures, 17,543 out of 18,578 Iranian nationals who entered Indonesia last year used a VOA. ( koi )