People smuggling summit begins
Age (Breaking news)
Tuesday 29 April 2003, 6:30 AM

Indonesia and Australia host a meeting on the resort island of Bali of 32 countries from Asia and the Middle East to boost cooperation on people smuggling and trafficking.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and his Indonesian counterpart Hassan Wirayuda will open the two-day gathering with a statement expressing their commitment to addressing the problem.

Arriving in Bali on Monday night, Mr Downer said he was not concerned that Indonesia had not yet introduced laws against people smuggling, which were on Jakarta's agenda when the last regional meeting was held in February 2002.

"Indonesia is a complex country and you don't expect people smuggling legislation to pass through the Indonesian parliament quickly," he told reporters.

However, Mr Downer said Australia would have preferred if the Indonesian government had handed over SIEV X people smuggler Abu Quassey, instead of deporting him to his homeland of Egypt last week.

"We would have rather they extradited him to Australia but because of citizenship issues he has been extradited to Egypt," he said.

"It's been their judgment. On that basis we hope that he does soon face charges in Egypt."

Quassey has admitted responsibility for helping to organise the fatal SIEV X voyage in October 2001 but Indonesia never charged him in relation to the sinking of the boat, despite the fact that more than 350 asylum seekers drowned.

Instead he spent several months in detention over immigration charges.

During the meeting, Australia is expected to promote a model of people smuggling and trafficking legislation developed by Australia and China, which countries can adopt for their own laws.

Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock said regional cooperation on people smuggling was now in its "implementation phase".

Mr Ruddock is expected to sign as many as four memorandums of understanding on people smuggling and trafficking with countries in the region.

"We have identified where we need to develop cooperation ... now it's a question of working particularly on a bilateral basis with the implementation of those measures," he said upon arriving in Bali.

"But it needs to be seen in the context that we have re-shaped very considerably the way in which people smuggling issues are seen."

Since the last meeting, a string of workshops have been held across Asia aimed at tightening up controls on illegal immigration.

2003 AAP

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