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People Smuggling Conference Draws Praise - 2002-02-28


Indonesian and Australian leaders have declared Southeast Asia's first conference on combating people smuggling a success. Officials from more than 30 nations agreed to continue to work together to stem the problem.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has said the participants recognize that the conference is just one of the first steps in combating people smuggling.

"There was very strong feeling about this at the conference that we didn't want the conference to be a one-off and that's that. We wanted the conference to be the beginning of a process. And that is one of the great strengths of the outcome from this conference," Mr. Downer said. Australia and Indonesia were co-hosts of the three-day conference. It brought together officials from more than 30 countries, as well as aid workers and observers from roughly two dozen other nations. The two host nations issued a statement that lists actions they agree to take to clamp down on smugglers. Participants promised to strengthen legislation in their home countries to make people smuggling a criminal act. In many countries, it is not a crime.

They also agreed to share information on the identification of the people behind smuggling syndicates. Indonesia's Foreign Minister also said he was pleased with the outcome of the conference. "We have recognized the growing reality of the issue of people smuggling, trafficking in persons and related transnational crimes is a global problem. Hence there is a firm agreement that it takes a collective undertaking among countries and relevant international organizations to effectively address the issues concerned," he said.

The praise Australia and Indonesia shared at the end of the conference contrasts with the tension that has divided the two countries in the past over the people smuggling issue. A diplomatic stand-off occurred last year when Australian authorities intercepted a ship carrying more than 400 illegal migrants. Australia wanted the illegal migrants to be returned to Indonesia, where they came from, but Jakarta refused. Eventually they were sent to a third nation. Since then, Australia has pushed Jakarta to clamp down on migrants who use Indonesian ports as departure points for sneaking into Australia illegally.

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