Indonesian navy warns of asylum boat turn-back 'casualties'

September 26, 2013 12:53PM

THE Indonesian navy has slammed the Abbott government's plans to turn back asylum-seeker boats, warning that the policy is "too risky" and could cost lives at sea.

In the latest of a string of objections coming out of Jakarta, a senior navy official says the Prime Minister's plan to force boats back would also unfairly shift the burden of dealing with the asylum-seeker problem back on Indonesia.

Major Andy Apriyanto, the head of policy for the Indonesian Maritime Security Coordinating Board, said Tony Abbott needed to drop the plan or he would be responsible for risking lives.

“What they need to do is to revise their own policy,” Major Andy said.

“Casualties may happen with this, and if they are in open sea, first of all it's too risky with boats commonly in poor condition and over capacity.”

The comments from the senior officer, who had been directed by Indonesian navy headquarters to speak on the issue, appear to be part of a ramping up of criticism from Jakarta over Mr Abbott's asylum-seeker policy.

The criticism, which follows another rejection of the turn-back plan by Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa earlier this week, comes just days ahead of bilateral talks between Mr Abbott and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in Jakarta.

Dr Natalegawa warned Australia his country would not accept violations of its borders in relation to the boat turn-back plan and said his message had been delivered “loud and clear”.

Mr Abbott said today his government would “absolutely respect Indonesia's sovereignty and we would never do or propose anything which is contrary to that”.

Major Andy said Indonesia had cooperated with Australia in attempting to disrupt people-smuggling operations, but it now faced an unfair share of the burden in dealing with asylum-seeker boats.

“Even though we have done our best to prevent them, it's impossible for us to stop all of the boats from entering Australia,” he said.

“This is additional burden for Indonesia. We could've just let them sail to Australia, but no, we respect Australia's wishes.

“This is a dilemma. If we don't save them, then everyone will be blaming us for not respecting human rights, not saving them. But if we let them (sail to Australia) then Australia would be yelling at us why we let them go.”

The Coalition has repeatedly said its new suite of border protection measures, including the turn-back plan and paying Indonesian villagers for information on people smuggling operations, were non-negotiable.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has said the Coalition would not be “seeking permission” to implement its asylum-seeker policies, despite Jakarta labelling some of the measures an attack on Indonesian sovereignty.

Dr Natalegawa reiterated earlier this week that Jakarta believed policy responses to people-smuggling should be discussed through the regional dialogue known as the Bali Process, which Australia and Indonesia co-chair.

Mr Abbott, who will visit Jakarta next week, said today he wanted to work “co-operatively and constructively with our neighbours” to stop asylum-seeker boats travelling to Australia.

“We have in the past worked very constructively together to stop this problem,” he told reporters in Melbourne.

“We are even now working very well together with the Indonesians, but we can do better in the future and we absolutely respect Indonesia's sovereignty and we would never do or propose anything which is contrary to that.”



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