Indonesia hosts second conference on people smuggling
The World Today
Tuesday, 29 April 2003 - 12:25:11
Reporter: Tim Palmer

ELEANOR HALL: Well, now to Indonesia and the latest high-level regional meeting on asylum seekers.

In the year since the last Bali conference on people smuggling, the Australian government has claimed victory in stemming the flow of asylum seekers to Australia and it's attributed some of that success to co-operation with Indonesia. But as the second Bali conference opened this morning, policy differences are re-emerging between the two co-hosts.

The Indonesian government has restated its view that it's not legally required to intervene to block the voyages of Vietnamese boats apparently bound for Australia, as they have transited through its waters. And while Indonesia has now deported the man Australian authorities want to be put on trial for people smuggling crimes, he's been sent not to Australia, but back to his native Egypt where his fate remains unclear.

This report from our Indonesia Correspondent Tim Palmer in Bali.

TIM PALMER: Thirty-two nations will join the second Bali conference on people smuggling and the trafficking of people. Some represent points of departure. Others, like Australia, see themselves solely and unwillingly as destinations.

The Australian Government measures what it describes as success since the last conference early last year in simple terms. Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer.

ALEXANDER DOWNER: As you know, no boats have successfully landed in Australia for a very long time. That is a tribute, not just to our own domestic policies, but to the work other countries in the region have been doing, really over the last 18 months or so.

TIM PALMER: Certainly since the strained atmosphere at last year's conference, the Australian-Indonesian co-operation on people smuggling is being put forward by both sides as a significant success, but there are still some fundamental difficulties.

Indonesia still hasn't criminalized people smuggling and just last week, that meant the man who Australian authorities wanted to extradite to face an Australian court, slipped through their fingers and wound up instead in Egypt.

Abu Quassey is considered by the Australian government as a key people smuggling figure, possibly responsible for the deaths of more than 300 people, when the boat named SIEV X sank on its way to Australia.

Justice Minister, Chris Ellison, insists the chase for Abu Quassey isn't over.

CHRIS ELLISON: We intend to have him extradited to Australia if that's possible. That's our first preference but if that is not possible, then we'll do whatever we can to assist the Egyptian authorities in prosecuting him.

TIM PALMER: In real terms though, have you had to give up at this stage the prospect of him being brought to justice in Australia?

CHRIS ELLISON: No way. As I said, we're going to pursue that avenue of extradition with Egypt and if that is not successful, then we will do whatever we can to assist the Egyptians in prosecuting him.

TIM PALMER: Mr Downer refused to blame Indonesia's slow progress towards passing anti-people smuggling legislation for Australia's loss in the fight to try Abu Quassey.

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Not at all. They've, again, they've given a commitment to do that but look, Indonesia's a complex country and you don't expect legislation to pass through the Indonesian parliament quickly.

They have, in any case, been working on the legislation for quite some time now and there have been discussions within the parliament about it. So they're heading in the right direction and we're happy about that.

TIM PALMER: In fact Indonesia is far from alone in not criminalizing people smuggling. The majority of nations at the conference have no such laws so Australia and China have moved to write off-the-shelf laws, ready for adoption, at least as a model, by other nations.

Many of the details of this conference are administrative, building ties between officials and in Australia's case, signing memoranda of understanding with several nations.

Beyond the issues between Australia and Indonesia, the conference will focus just as heavily on people trafficking, the forced movement of people, particularly in the sex trade. Officials also expect to probe the links between illegal movement of people across borders and terrorism.

But the key consideration for Australia's heavyweight presence here is simple, how to keep the boats from coming. Even now, with two boats from Vietnam breaking a long pause in attempts to reach Australia, the frequency of such attempts depends on conditions still seemingly beyond the control of this sort of conference.

Immigration Minister, Philip Ruddock, acknowledging that the fate of 42 Vietnamese on one of those boats still thought to be sailing for Australia, is unclear.

PHILIP RUDDOCK: All I know is that it's still in the Indonesian archipelago and it's not in a position where we would be able to pursue any search operations or otherwise.

ELEANOR HALL: Australia's Immigration Minister, Philip Ruddock in Bali with our Indonesia Correspondent, Tim Palmer.


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