SYDNEY - Indonesian officials say Australia is not doing enough to help refugees in the Asia-Pacific region. The criticism came this week at a regional conference on the holiday island of Bali.
It has been almost a year since hundreds of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar and Bangladesh died in the Andaman Sea, west of Thailand, as they fled persecution.
Thousands more ended up in Indonesia where authorities say they have not been able to cope, and believe Australia has been unwilling to help.
At issue is Canberra’s controversial closed borders policy, called Operation Sovereign Borders, where Australian patrols tow or turn back asylum seeker vessels that approach its northern territorial waters.
Passengers on migrant boats that manage to evade interception are transported to offshore processing camps run by Australia in Papua New Guinea and the tiny island of Nauru.
Pierre Marthinus, an Indonesian political analyst, says Jakarta believes Australia is not willing to help solve the Rohingya refugee crisis.
“Indonesia is very skeptical about Australia’s ability to actually help mitigate the impact or solve the refugee crisis itself. Australia’s Operation Sovereign Borders is still neither forgiven not forgotten by Indonesia,” said Marthinus.
The contentious issue was one of the focal points of this week’s anti-people smuggling summit on the Indonesian island of Bali.
The Bali Process has 48 member countries and international bodies, including the U.N. Refugee Agency. It was set up more than a decade ago to help combat human trafficking and transnational crime.
At the conference, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop rejected Indonesia’s criticism, insisting her country has one of the most comprehensive refugee resettlement programs in the world.
Canberra offers sanctuary to 13,750 displaced people under various global accords each year. That figure is due to rise to almost 19,000 within three years.