Indonesia to address boat people issue with Australia

Indonesia to address boat people issue with Australia
Australian Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop (L) meets with Indonesian Foreign Minister, Retno Marsudi (R) during the third Australia - Indonesia 2+2 Defence and Foreign Ministers meeting in Sydney on December 21, 2015.
PHOTO: AFP

Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi said on Sunday that Indonesia would offer solutions for the recurring boat people issue to Australia during the so called "2 plus 2" ministerial meetings to be attended by the foreign and defence ministers of both countries in Sydney on Monday.

The former Indonesian ambassador to the Netherlands said that she would brief her counterpart Julie Bishop during the third one-day "2 plus 2" meeting to discuss Indonesia's proposal to encourage Australia to solve the root causes of the boat people problem, a determinant factor in the two countries' roller-coaster relationship.

"The humanitarian responses [on boat people] are one thing and that part only touches the downstream effects of the problem. As for addressing the root causes, which are the upstream part of the problem, Indonesia and Australia should work together to counter transnational organised crime because irregularly migrating persons are victims of it. This is a workable solution," Retno said on Sunday.

In addition, Retno said, through the scheme the two countries would also empower the countries of origin of the boat people, including Myanmar and several war-torn Middle East countries, in order to improve their domestic economic powers so that people in the respective country would not leave their lands over economic hardship.

Australia has had many ups and downs in its relationship with Indonesia, but arguably the lowest point in the two countries' diplomatic ties in the past 15 years occurred in 2013 when attempts four years earlier by Australian intelligence to spy on Indonesia by tapping the phones of then president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, his wife and his inner circle were revealed.

The tough policy of former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott of stopping boats carrying asylum seekers heading to Australia and forcing the vessels back into Indonesian waters, had also infuriated Jakarta.

The ties continued to be strained after President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo took office late last year following his decision to execute in April a number of convicts, including two Australians.

The relationship of the two neighbours returned to normal after current Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who came to power in September, made his first presidential visit to Indonesia in November.

Retno on Sunday also made assurances that with Indonesia under the leadership of Jokowi the two countries had been communicating well with each other on a number of issues, including that of the boat people, by describing her level of communication with Bishop as very "intensive".

On the regional level, Monday's "2 plus 2" meeting will also discuss how Indonesia and Australia can step up efforts to fight terrorism and to improve maritime security and economics. The meeting will address challenges being faced by the Asia-Pacific region and the world that have direct impacts on the two countries.

Indonesian Ambassador to Australia Nadjib Riphat Kusoema said that Indonesia and Australia will renew their commitment on counterterrorism efforts, adding that the first will also look at the latter's success story with legislation that prevents Australian citizens from becoming foreign fighters abroad, including in Syria and Iraq.

The Australian government has recently amended its citizenship act in order to provide a legal umbrella for authorities in the country to revoke the citizenship of its people joining foreign terrorist groups, like the Islamic State (IS) movement.

"For example, many Australians have dual citizenship and if it is proven that they join [with foreign fighters] then their Australian citizenship can be revoked," Jadjib said on Sunday.

Revoking the citizenship of Indonesians joining foreign fighters like IS is still a debatable issue in Indonesia because according to the existing rules in Indonesia, authorities could only impose such a punishment if Indonesians join another country's military forces. The problem remains on the Indonesian side because groups like IS are not considered national entities, nor are they official troops of any country.

Indonesian Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu will discuss details about the counterterrorism agenda during the meeting on Monday with his counterpart Marise Ann Payne.

Indonesian Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT) head Comr. Gen. Saud Usman will also join the forum with Ryamizard.

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