News / Asia

Australia, Indonesia Seek Common Ground on Asylum Seekers

Asylum seekers wait in a police station in Surabaya , East Java province, July 29, 2012.
Asylum seekers wait in a police station in Surabaya , East Java province, July 29, 2012.
Phil Mercer
SYDNEY — Analysts say a deal that could allow Australian forces to enter Indonesian waters to rescue asylum seekers must be carefully monitored to prevent armed conflict. 

The proposal would allow Australian authorities to enter Indonesia's Search and Rescue Zone without permission.

In the past year, hundreds of asylum seekers have drowned off Indonesia’s Java coast en route to Australia by sea, while dozens of boats have issued distress calls.

Jakarta does not have the capacity to respond to each emergency. Within the last week a boatload of asylum seekers ran into trouble near the Indonesian island, Bali, but local authorities were unable to help after darkness had fallen and the Australian navy was left waiting for an official request to respond.

Smuggling gangs

Michael White, a maritime law professor at the University of Queensland, says smuggling gangs believe that, if they call for help, they will be escorted to Australian territory, making their journeys safer and quicker.

"They are developing a technique - I do not blame the refugees, this is the boat crew - of hardly pushing off very far from Indonesia and then calling for assistance and saying they are sinking," he said.

Indonesian Foreign Affairs Minister Marty Natalegawa says discussions are underway to establish how and when Australian vessels can enter his country’s territorial waters. Natalegawa says the idea for a maritime agreement between the Asia-Pacific neighbors arose from the Indonesian president's visit to Darwin, last month.

Setting ground rules

White says that the ground rules must be carefully considered to avoid hostilities.

"We certainly would not want a misunderstanding resulting in one of the Indonesian defense forces opening fire on our people. Of course, it should not happen, but it is not impossible. They are armed on both sides," he said.

As discussions continue, more boats carrying asylum seekers attempt to make the perilous crossing from Indonesia to Australia. About 7,000 people have been intercepted by Australian border patrols, so far this year.

Earlier this week, the Australian Navy helped a distressed boat carrying 65 suspected asylum seekers near Sumba Island, off Indonesia.

In Canberra, the government has set up an independent committee to consider the issue of unauthorized migration after it failed to win parliament support for its plan to send hundreds of asylum seekers to Malaysia.

Critics oppose the plan because Malaysia it is not a signatory to the United Nations refugee convention.

Australia grants visas to around 13,000 refugees each year, under various global treaties.

You May Like

Video Russia’s Syrian Escalation Tests Obama’s Crisis Response

Critics once again question whether president has been slow to act on Syrian conflict, thus creating opening for powers like Russia More

Ancient African DNA Shows Mass Migration Back Into Africa

First genetic analysis of ancient human remains in Africa suggests massive migration from north around time of Egyptian empire More

NASA: Pluto Has Blue Sky

New photos also reveal the presence of water ice More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugeesi
Henry Ridgwell
October 08, 2015 8:02 PM
Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

VOA Blogs