Bali a transit point for illegal immigrants: Governor

BALI - Being a popular international tourist destination, Bali has become a favoured transit point for illegal immigrants heading to Australia and other destinations.

"The tiny island of Bali is now facing a problem with illegal immigrants, mostly from the Middle East, involved in human trafficking," noted Governor Made Mangku Pastika during the opening of the sixth Summer Institute in International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights in Sanur on Monday morning.

Last May, Bali's water police directorate, apprehended a boat near Benoa harbour and arrested 95 illegal immigrants, many of whom were women and children, on their way to Australia.

In the last few years, Bali Police have foiled the attempts of many illegal immigrants heading to Australia. The majority of these came from Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and other Middle Eastern countries.

A large number of immigrants also come to Bali disguised as tourists, spending spend some time on the island before leaving for Australia by boat.

"Although they create social problems in Bali, we cannot treat them as criminals. They need legal and human rights protection. We have to treat them properly," Pastika noted.

The arrival of illegal immigrants has added to the population problems on the already crowded island. "We have seen a flood of migrant workers coming to Bali from places across Indonesia. Now, we have to deal with so many illegal immigrants," the governor stated.

Bali has a population of 4.2 million, a significant increase of 400,000 people in the four years since 2008, when the island's population was 3.6 million.

Due to rapid economic development, people from Java, Sumatra, West and East Nusa Tenggara, Ambon and other places in Indonesia have come to Bali to find employment.

"Not to mention the large number of expatriates who are pursuing jobs and business opportunities in Bali," said Pastika, adding that in 2015 when the ASEAN Free Trade Agreement was enacted, more professionals from ASEAN member countries would also flow to Bali.

"The topic of this year's Summer Institute is relevant to the problems we are facing now," said Pastika.

Marzuki Darusman, director of the Human Rights Resource Center, admitted that Bali was very close to Australia, making it a perfect transit site for illegal immigrants.

Marzuki also stated that illegal immigrants were not criminals and therefore should be treated properly, in accordance with international human rights principles.

"The central government must establish a shelter for illegal immigrants arriving in Bali," Marzuki insisted.

Since 2008, the Summer Institute has provided human rights professionals, mostly working in Southeast Asia, with a discussion forum for topics of key concern to the region. This year, the participants are predominantly from the ASEAN Secretariat, the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), the ASEAN Committee on Migrant Workers (ACMW), and the ASEAN Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children (ACWC).

This is the third time for Indonesia to host the Summer Institute. In 2009 and 2010, the programs were held in cooperation with the National Human Rights Commission of Indonesia.

This year, the Human Rights Resource Center, Udayana University, East-West Center, University of Zurich, International Institute for Child Rights and Development, and the War Crimes Studies Center have organised the Summer Institute.

The primary purpose of the workshops is to provide members of key ASEAN commissions with the opportunity to engage in policy-level discussions relating to economic migration, and to consider the views of a small number of key experts working in the field of labour law, trafficking in persons, citizenship and refugee rights, and women's and children's rights in migration.

Legal expert from Udayana University, Dewa Gde Palguna, said that there had been many international legal instruments of immigrants and human rights. "The workshop is expected to discuss much about aspects related to the matter, particularly related to the local culture in each country," Palguna said.