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Regional Solution Needed For Migration in Asia-Pacific

  • Lisa Schlein

The International Organization for Migration is calling for a regional solution to migration in the Asia-Pacific to prevent tragedies such as the one that occurred off Australia's Christmas Island on Wednesday. At least 27 people were killed and 42 rescued after a smuggler's boat capsized in the South Pacific.

Indonesia is a major stepping-stone for migrants and asylum seekers trying to reach Australia. The International Organization for Migration says the largest groups are people from Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Iraq, Iran and Burma.

IOM Spokesman Jean-Philippe Chauzy tells VOA migrants and asylum seekers remain stranded in Indonesia for many years. He says they run out of money and are cheated by people smugglers.

He says many become desperate and resort to desperate measures in the hopes of changing and improving their lives.

"They are intercepted by the Indonesian authorities," Chauzy said. "We know, however, that some manage to continue their route to Australia and they get onto these rickety boats. Many boats have been intercepted this year. But, obviously, in that particular incident, the boat arrived off the coast of Christmas Island and crashed on the rocks with a loss of life at the moment."

The boat reportedly was carrying Iranians and Iraqis. Chauzy says the people on these smugglers' boats generally are a mix of irregular migrants and asylum seekers.

He says people who have been determined to be genuine refugees usually have to wait years before they are resettled in third countries. He says they become increasingly frustrated and many embark on smugglers' boats to try to reach Australia.

He says many stranded migrants scrape up the money to pay the smugglers in a desperate bid to find a better life in Australia.

"This latest tragedy in our view highlights the need to have a regional solution to the issue of people smuggling and to the issue of asylum in the region," Chauzy added. "For instance, we support the idea of setting up a regional protection framework, which the Australians are working on with the UNHCR, to make sure that people who want to claim asylum, if they come from Afghanistan, for instance, or Iraq can do so more quickly in Indonesia."

In addition, Chauzy says other countries must step in and set up resettlement programs for those asylum seekers who have been recognized as genuine refugees in Indonesia.

By promptly resettling these people, he says, the frustration that prompts them to risk their lives would be gone. He says they would refrain from making the perilous journey across the sea in a flimsy smugglers' boat.