Indonesian foreign minister regrets Oz asylum seeker policy

Indonesian foreign minister regrets Oz asylum seeker policy
Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi (2nd L) and Indonesia's President Joko Widodo (3rd L) takes part in a bilateral meeting with US President Barack Obama at a hotel in Beijing on November 10, 2014.

The Indonesian government strongly regrets the decision of the Australian government to completely close its doors to unwanted asylum seekers who use Indonesia as the entry point to their preferred final destination, Australia.

Speaking at a press conference at the Foreign Ministry on Thursday, Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi expressed the government's deep concern over Canberra's new policy. She described the decision as unilateral, with Australia just considering its own interests and ignoring the situation that Indonesia has to face as a transit venue for asylum seekers.

The minister pointed out that she had contacted her Australian counterpart, Julie Bishop, and they had agreed to regularly communicate to avoid misunderstandings such as those that had often occurred with the previous administration.

"Basically, we [the Indonesian government], have conveyed our strong stance against the Australian policy," said Retno.

Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said on Tuesday that his government would not accept any refugees who registered with the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in Indonesia after July 1 this year. In addition, Canberra will also reduce the number of people it would allow to resettle in Australia from Indonesia from 600 to 450 people per year.

Morrison said the new rules were designed to stop the flow of asylum seekers from Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan into Indonesia.

"We're taking the sugar off the table," Morrison told ABC Radio on Wednesday. "People smugglers are smuggling people into Indonesia for the purpose of trying to get resettlement in Australia."

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has held at least two bilateral discussions with his new counterpart, President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, who came to power last month.

Abbott is trying to have a better personal connection with Jokowi after his stormy relationship with Jokowi's predecessor, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Yudhoyono was angered by information that Australia had bugged his mobile telephone conversations for nearly two years.

Morrison declined to say whether Abbott and Jokowi discussed the policy at the G20 Leaders Summit in Brisbane, but said Indonesia was "fully appraised" of the decision before it was made public.

"We are happy to work with Indonesia in any way we can to reduce the number of people in Indonesia, but not by encouraging more people to come to Indonesia because they think they will get a visa to Australia," he said, as quoted by Reuters.

"We regret the unilateral policy that Australia has chosen to adopt, as it is not only a violation of its duty as a party to the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees but also its international duty. Meanwhile, Indonesia, a non-party of the convention, has gone the extra mile and done plenty," Retno said.

Over 10,000 asylum seekers fleeing instability in countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan are currently stranded in Indonesia.

Abbott's promise to be much tougher on asylum seekers trying to enter Australia through Indonesian waters was among the key points that had helped him win the post of prime minister in September last year.

"Indonesia and Australia are neighboring countries, therefore, it is a must for us to have and maintain good bilateral relations," said Retno.

During her recent meeting with Bishop at the G20 Summit in Brisbane, Australia, Retno reminded her counterpart to "learn from past experiences on policies that did not impact bilateral relations of the two countries positively".

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