Australia gets pledges from boat people homelands
Bagus Saragih and Yohanna Ririhena
The Jakarta Post
Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd sent a strong team to Jakarta on Tuesday where it received strong commitments from other countries at an international conference on refugees and boat people ' a politically sensitive issue in Australia before the Sept. 7 election.
The Australian luminaries included Foreign Minister Bob Carr and Minister of Immigration, Multicultural Affairs and Citizenship Tony Burke.
Hosted by Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, the 13 countries that are the most affected by irregular movement of persons in the Asia-Pacific agreed to impose tougher visa policies as part of a set of concrete measures to curb the growing trend of people smuggling and human trafficking in the region.
Representatives from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization of Migration (IOM) also took part in the conference.
Ministers and high-level officials from Indonesia, Afghanistan, Australia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Malaysia, Myanmar, New Zealand, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Thailand attended the one-day conference, titled 'Special Conference on the Irregular Movement of People', held at the Foreign Ministry in Jakarta. The issue of irregular movement of persons covers asylum seekers and refugees and their possible secondary movements.
Marty said the measures that the countries have committed to take focus on prevention, early detection, protection and prosecution. 'We have confidence that the implementation of these commitments will result in effectively addressing the issue of irregular movement of persons,' he added.
The conference issued the Jakarta Declaration, which underlined that root causes of irregular movements in the region were complex and multi-dimensional. Therefore, the challenges should be addressed as the shared responsibility of the countries of origin, transit and destination.
'Shared responsibility was the main sentiment expressed by all of us in this meeting ' how we can actually fulfill this commitment to working together in addressing the issue,' Marty said.
The declaration highlighted that countries of origin, transit and destination have committed to pursuing joint concrete actions through review of visa and visa integrity policies on a periodic basis or whenever evidence of abuse should arise.
Hundreds of fatalities have occurred as scores of boats carrying thousands of foreigners ' from Iran, Iraq, Sri Lanka and other countries ' have capsized in Indonesian waters en route to Australia where asylum seekers try to obtain refugee status.
The Associated Press reported on Tuesday that rescuers pulled more than 100 suspected asylum seekers to safety after their boat sank in the Indian Ocean 220 kilometers north of Christmas Island, where Australia operates a detention camp for asylum seekers. Christmas Island, located 500 kilometers south of Jakarta, is a popular destination for asylum seekers.
The conference was initiated by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who conveyed the idea to Rudd during the Bogor meeting in early July. Leaders noted that the forum would focus on identifying and enacting concrete solutions.
Iran did not send a representative to the conference. In a new restriction going into effect on Aug. 20, Indonesia has stopped issuing visas on arrival to Iranians after a growing number of them had been caught smuggling drugs or using the country as a transit point before seeking asylum in Australia.
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