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Asia-Pacific Countries End Meeting on Illegal Immigration, People Smuggling - 2003-04-30


Ministers from the Asia Pacific region have wrapped up a three day conference in Bali, Indonesia praising recent successes in combating illegal migration and people smuggling.

The foreign ministers say they are pleased that the number of smuggled people in the Asia Pacific region has fallen dramatically in the past year due to greater governmental cooperation.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda told delegates at the people's smuggling conference in Bali that important steps to end human trafficking have been taken, but much still needs to be done.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer noted that recent progress will encourage more cooperation in combating transnational crimes like money laundering, drug trafficking and terrorism, which he indicated often accompany the smuggling of people. Australia, 18 months ago, adopted stricter but controversial illegal immigration policies, including sequestering asylum seekers during lengthy screenings, intercepting illegal boats at sea, and imposing heavy prison sentences on anyone profiting from people smuggling.

Since then, the ships laden with suffering boat people have virtually disappeared. Foreign Minister Downer reaffirmed this strict policy as a boatload of Vietnamese was intercepted in Indonesian waters heading to Australia. "They won't be arriving in Australia, those people," he said. "I'm entirely confident of that, and we appreciate the approach that Indonesia takes to dealing with those issues."

The issue of smuggling has long strained relations between Australia and Indonesia, which is often used as a transit point for illegal immigrants trying to reach Australia. But Indonesian foreign minister Wirajuda says his government is committed to doing more to stop the problem, and working with international organizations and other nations. "The ideal thing is for the people to be returned immediately, so the countries of our region should be responsible as well," said Hassan Wirajuda.

Delegates from 32 countries attended the meeting and called for economic aid to less wealthy nations to help them increase job opportunities and reduce pressures on their citizens to migrate illegally. Delegates also said opportunity should be enhanced for legal migration by improving access to the international labor market.

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