Indonesia speaks out on boatpeople amid Australia tension


Jakarta (AFP) - Jakarta called on governments Monday to stop "shifting responsibility" for asylum-seekers, in veiled criticism of Australia's hardline policy of towing boatloads of would-be refugees back to Indonesia.

The military-led operation has caused anger in Indonesia, which has been forced to take back seven boatloads of asylum-seekers turned around by the Australian navy since December.

At the opening of an international meeting on asylum-seekers in Jakarta, Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said countries should stand by commitments to cooperate on the issue made at a conference last year.

Those commitments "confirmed our shared responsibility -- shared responsibility, not (the) shifting of responsibility. Shared responsibility that requires coordination and cooperation," Natalegawa said at Monday's meeting.

"For Indonesia the message is crystal-clear -- the cross-border and complex nature of irregular movement of persons defies... national solution."

Asylum-seekers have for years used Indonesia as a transit point to cross to Australia, usually on rickety fishing boats. More than 1,000 asylum-seekers have died at sea in recent years attempting the perilous journey.

Tony Abbott came to power last year at the head of a conservative government in Australia on the back of a pledge to stem the flow of asylum-seekers, and has implemented the tough border protection policies.

His government says they are working, claiming that no asylum-seekers arriving by boat have set foot on Australian soil since December.

The UN refugee agency said last week the number of asylum-seekers registering in Indonesia had dropped dramatically since December, from around 100 a day to 100 a week.

The Abbott administration retained the policy of the former government of sending all asylum-seekers arriving by boat to Papua New Guinea or Nauru -- for permanent resettlement there if judged to be refugees.

Natalegawa acknowledged Monday the policies may have helped reduce the loss of life at sea between the two countries, but reiterated his opposition to them.

"We need to take the politics out of this whole endeavour," he said, adding there must be alternative ways of stopping the flow of asylum-seekers.

Australia was represented at the meeting by officials from its Jakarta embassy, but they made no comment at the opening.

The two-day International Workshop on the Protection of the Irregular Movement of Persons at Sea, attended by senior officials from 14 countries, is co-chaired by Indonesia and the United Nations refugee agency. 

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