Strategy to curb traffic in illegals
The Weekend Australian
8 September 2001
By Don Greenlees, Jakarta correspondent

AUSTRALIA and Indonesia have laid the foundation for a joint strategy to combat people-trafficking but a question remains over whether plans to beef up counter-measures against people-smuggling syndicates can stop the boats coming.

After two days of talks in Jakarta, ministers from the two countries have passed the tough issues of how new measures in the fight against people-trafficking will work to meetings of officials due to start in Indonesia next week.

Indonesia has agreed to strengthen existing immigration detention facilities and consider new anti-human trafficking laws that would allow for the prosecution of syndicate bosses. Officials will also review whether to widen a 1996 extradition treaty to allow smugglers to be prosecuted in Australia.

The talks in Jakarta involving Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, Defence Minister Peter Reith and Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock have helped to elevate interest in the issue of illegal immigration in Indonesia, although the initiatives agreed to may take time to bear fruit.

A priority for the Australian party has been to win Indonesian support for law reform and an Australian maritime surveillance shield to stop boats of asylum-seekers making it to Australian waters.

But for the surveillance operation to work, Indonesia will need to assist in bringing the boats back to its ports -- an idea still meeting some resistance. The Australian ministers said the details of how the interdiction of vessels would work would be left to talks in Bali next week between senior strategic planners from the Indonesian and Australian defence departments.

Despite the hard work still ahead, Mr Downer said the meetings with Indonesian ministers and police and military chiefs had been "positive and constructive" and had laid the basis for the "evolution of a comprehensive strategy".

The Australian ministers, who were scheduled to meet President Megawati Sukarnoputri last night, succeeded in winning Indonesia's support for efforts to regionalise the people-trafficking issue. Both countries will push for a conference of regional nations in coming months.

"I think that what the Tampa issue has done is highlight the whole issue of people-trafficking to the region in a very dramatic way and I think there is now a much stronger appreciation in the region that this is a significant issue for us all," Mr Downer told a press conference yesterday.

Although gaining concrete results could take time, the willingness of Indonesia to contemplate new human-trafficking laws and extradition of traffickers, who are mainly non-Indonesian citizens from South Asia and the Middle East, is a positive sign of the Government's attitude.

Moreover, the requirement for Canberra and Jakarta to work together could have the beneficial effect of consolidating the recovery in bilateral relations, despite the public differences over the handling of the asylum-seekers on the Tampa.


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