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Jakarta Post

RI to stop arresting boat people

Yuliasri Perdani
Jakarta   ●   Tue, November 26, 2013

Boat people may now have better access to Australia as the National Police could soon allow boat people to pass through Indonesian waters unimpeded in their attempt to reach Christmas Island.

National Police chief Gen. Sutarman said that such people would have the freedom to go wherever they wished. '€œWe must crackdown on any violations of the law in the country, but if a person intends to go there [Christmas Island], it does not come under our authority. We no longer have cooperation [on boat people],'€ Sutarman said on Monday.

Sutarman announced the hands-off approach on Monday in the wake of escalating tension over revelations that Australian espionage agents attempted to wiretap the telephone conversations of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his inner circle in 2009.

Angered by the espionage operation, Yudhoyono last week announced the suspension of cooperation on people-smuggling with Australia.

Sutarman, however, did not elaborate on what measures the police would take with boat people attempting to pass through the country'€™s waters.

'€œIf they are within our territorial jurisdiction and violate the law, then we must uphold the law,'€ he said.

Sutarman'€™s statement is the latest example of how the government is relaxing its surveillance of boat people.

Last week, the head of immigration at the Law and Human Rights Agency in North Sumatra, Rustanov, said his agency would not conduct special surveillance of boat people heading to Australia.

'€œWe have no business with Australia. Let boat people head there [...] Now there is no need to waste energy arresting them,'€ he said in Medan, North Sumatra.

In the last five years, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has seen the number of refugees and asylum seekers in Indonesia seeking UNHCR assistance increase from 385 in 2008 to 7,218 last year.

Indonesia'€™s coastal areas, particularly those of North Sumatra and West Java, have become popular transit points for undocumented migrants, mostly from conflict-torn countries in the Middle East and Africa, to reach Australia.

Prior to the spying row, the National Police endeavored to stem the flow of boat people by conducting sea patrols and intelligence operations, particularly in remote subdistricts and villages located in coastal areas.

With the help of 16,000 non-commissioned officers across the archipelago, the National Police have collected information about the movement of people smugglers and undocumented migrants.

The officers, known as Babinkamtibmas, are also tasked with detecting any local fishermen intending to sell their boats to people smugglers.

The flow of refugee boats is a hot political issue in Australia.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott came to power in September, partly on the back of his tough campaign against asylum seekers.

During his election campaign, Abbott revealed his plan to pledge A$420 million (US$384 million) for policy measures that included buying up Indonesian boats and paying Indonesian villagers to gather intelligence for Australia on the movement of migrant boats.

Indonesian government officials and lawmakers quickly denounced the plan, saying that it could breach Indonesia'€™s sovereignty.

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