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Jakarta Post

RI to ask Australia to relax refugee policy

  • Anggi M. Lubis

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Fri, March 18, 2016   /  08:43 am

Indonesia is planning to ask Australia to revise its strict policy on refugees at the upcoming Bali Process international forum through a multilateral mechanism that demonstrates Indonesia is not alone in wanting the neighboring country to let more refugees into its territory.

 Initiated in 2002 to address people smuggling, trafficking in persons and related transnational crimes, the Bali Process is slated to take place on the island on March 22-23, cochaired by Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi and her Australian counterpart Julie Bishop.

The forum comes at a sensitive time, with Australia in the international spotlight for its policy to turn back boat people and strict quota on asylum seekers and with Indonesia seeing overcapacity and financial problems at detention centers housing refugees.

When asked if the forum'€™s declaration would include an attempt to appeal against Australia'€™s strict policy on refugees and use of a refugee quota, Foreign Ministry spokesman Arrmanatha Nasir said the matter would be discussed over the course of the conference.

'€œIt is an issue that we hope to see discussed during the meeting. We will see to what extent it can be discussed,'€ he said.

Citing the emergence of a potential humanitarian crisis in the wake of an influx of Rohingya refugees into the region last year, the Foreign Ministry has previously said that the forum will yield a declaration expected to set guidelines for an emergency response mechanism regarding irregular migration.

The Law and Human Rights Ministry'€™s director general of immigration Ronny F. Sompie, said recently that his office was currently too short of funds and human resources to properly manage asylum seekers and refugees, and called for the forum to be used to persuade Australia to allow more room for refugees.

Indonesia'€™s 13 immigration detention centers, Ronny said, are already suffering from extreme overcrowding, with the number of illegal migrants soaring more than fivefold over the past seven years.

Arrmanatha said Indonesia was working with the UN High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) and International Organization on Migration (IOM) to handle refugees, adding that serious efforts were needed to improve facilities, which was among the goals the Bali Process would work toward.

'€œRefugee issues need always to be discussed in the regional context, not the individual [country] context. It'€™s pointless for just one or two countries '€” like Indonesia with Australia or Indonesia with New Zealand '€” to discuss the issue, as we need to find long-lasting solutions,'€ he said, emphasizing that origin, transit and destination countries should all be involved in the discussion.

As of January, there were 13,679 refugees and asylum seekers registered with the UNHCR in Indonesia, many of whom have been stuck in transit for years. An asylum seeker is someone who says he or she is a refugee, but whose claim has not yet been definitively evaluated.

Australia resettled around 808 refugees from Indonesia in 2013, but that figure was halved by 2015.

Indonesia is not a signatory to the UN refugee convention and refugees cannot legally work here while waiting for resettlement in a third country.

Arrmanatha said that representatives from 44 countries had confirmed attendance at the Bali Process, including 13 ministers, eight deputy ministers and senior officials.

Representatives from five countries have requested or have indicated that they want to hold bilateral sessions with Retno in the sidelines of the event, he added, namely New Zealand, the Netherlands, Fiji, Japan and Afghanistan. Retno is also expected to meet with representatives from the IOM and UNHCR.

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