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Asylum Seekers Top of Australian PM Trip to Indonesia

  • VOA News

Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott listens as Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono speaks during a joint news conference at the Presidential Palace in Jakarta September 30, 2013.

Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott listens as Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono speaks during a joint news conference at the Presidential Palace in Jakarta September 30, 2013.

New Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott says he had frank discussions on immigration issues with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono Monday.

During a visit to Jakarta, Prime Minister Abbott said he is determined to end what he called the "scourge" of people-smuggling between the two countries.

President Yudhoyono said the two countries must work closely together to combat the problem.

"Many people from other countries such as the Middle East and many more countries come to Indonesia and put a burden on Indonesia economically and socially, then when they want to continue their journey to Australia, they also create a lot of problems for Indonesia. The solution to this problem is cooperation," said President Yudhoyono.

The issue of immigration overshadowed other topics, with Abbott's trip coming just days after at least 36 asylum seekers were killed when their boat sank in Indonesian waters.

The new Australian leader won national elections earlier this month on a "stop the boats" pledge to end the constant stream of asylum seekers sailing from Indonesia to Australia.

Under the new policy, the Australian navy has been ordered to prevent the boats from reaching shore, and turn them back around whenever possible. The policy has upset Jakarta, warning that it violates Indonesia's sovereignty.

Abbott said Monday he has total respect for Indonesia's sovereignty.

"Australia's total respect for Indonesia's sovereignty, total respect for Indonesia's territorial integrity, and I say to you, bapak president, and to the people of Indonesia that the government of Australia takes a very dim view, a very dim view indeed, of anyone seeking to use our country as a platform for grandstanding against Indonesia. We will do everything that we possibly can to discourage this and to prevent this," said Prime Minister Abbott.

Australia's government has been under domestic pressure to stop the influx of asylum seekers from countries such as Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Hundreds of people have drowned in recent years trying to make the dangerous journey to Australian territory.

Abbott also is hoping to use his first foreign trip as Australian prime minister to bolster trade relations between the Asia-Pacific neighbors. He is accompanied by more than a dozen Australian business leaders.
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