Saturday, April 08, 2006

Boat people again?

Read Tony Kevin's piece in On Line Opinion. Tony is Visiting Fellow at the Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, Australian National University, Canberra, was Australia’s Ambassador to Cambodia from 1994 to 1997. He is the author of A Certain Maritime Incident – the Sinking of SIEV X. An excerpt follows:

"Wirayuda’s reminder that Australia and Indonesia have worked closely on “issues of illegal immigrants … in the past three years” (i.e. since the 2002 Bali conference) seems to me to send a fairly pointed message to Australian authorities: don’t be surprised if you find a renewed problem of Middle Eastern boat people on your doorstep.

There are still understood to be quite a large number of Middle Eastern origin asylum-seekers being maintained in transit camps or hostels in various parts of Indonesia, managed by UN agencies, with financial support from the Australian Government. Many of these people have been awarded refugee status by the UNHCR, but have not found any country willing to accept them, or are still hoping to be allowed to come to Australia because of close family ties here.

This might help explain a recent statement by Senator Ellison (Minister for Customs and responsible for Coastwatch, which in normal times manages Australian border protection) that Australian border protection surveillance in the waters south of West Papua has been significantly stepped up.

Only this week, Indonesian President Yudhoyono publicly renewed Wirayuda's warnings of ten days earlier. According to press agencies, Yudhoyono reportedly said, "Indonesia would review co-operation with Australia aimed at curbing people smugglers who use Indonesia as a stopover point to Australia's north."

No comments: