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Minister discusses relations with Indonesia over border protection and people smuggling.

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World Today


Friday 30 March 2007

Minister discusses relations with Indonesia over border protection and people smuggling


ELEANOR HALL: Is the Federal Government's Pacific Solution for asylum seekers about to become the Indian Pacific solution? 


Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews has unveiled plans to draw Indonesia into the Government's controversial border protection policy.  


Indonesia is not a signatory to the United Nations' Refugee Convention and the Government's plan has already drawn criticism from human rights groups. 


The Minister, Kevin Andrews joins us now. 


Minister, thanks for joining us. 


KEVIN ANDREWS: Thank you. 


ELEANOR HALL: Now, you've already approached the Indonesian Government about this. What exactly are you requesting? 


KEVIN ANDREWS: Well, people smuggling is a regional problem. It affects not just Australia but other countries in our area. And we are looking to try and develop a regional solution to that problem. 


We've recently signed a memorandum of understanding with Malaysia so that we have greater cooperation between our two countries, and we're looking to further the cooperation with Indonesia as our largest, nearest neighbour. 


ELEANOR HALL: When you say "further the cooperation" though, I mean there's cooperation on, on policing people smuggling, but are you asking them to actually set up places where you can process asylum seekers? 


KEVIN ANDREWS: Well, we're not seeking that we would do processing in Indonesia. What we are seeking is better cooperation to allow people who have a refugee claim to have that claim processed, under the United Nations High Commission for Refugee Protocols, in Indonesia. 


ELEANOR HALL: Why does Australia have any role in asking the Indonesians to do that? 


KEVIN ANDREWS: Well, as I said, this is a regional problem. Countries like Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia and other countries in Southeast Asia are affected by the criminal activities of people smugglers. It puts at risk people's lives when they're put out on leaking fishing boats on the ocean. And we're trying to work out a regional solution to a regional problem. 


ELEANOR HALL: So will you be asking the Indonesians to sign-on to the UN Refugee Convention? 


KEVIN ANDREWS: I'll certainly hope to be talking to the Indonesian Minister, and talking about the role of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in Indonesia. This is a globally accepted way in which refugees' claims are dealt with, and it's a way in which we will seek to support in Indonesia.  


ELEANOR HALL: Now, of course, you ran into trouble when you tried to send, or considered sending some of the Sri Lankan arrivals here to Indonesia. You changed your plans there. How could you be sure that any future arrivals would be treated according to the UN Guidelines, unless Indonesia did sign-on to the Convention? 


KEVIN ANDREWS: Well, there are certain preconditions which, we said at that time, were important. One of those is that people who have a refugee claim would not be sent back to the country from which they had fled, and secondly that any processing of people's refugee claims would be undertaken according to the UN protocols. They've been preconditions that Australia has had in place, and would maintain in place. 


So, it's a matter of furthering a discussion with countries in our neighbourhood, but that's the basis upon which we go into any discussion. 


ELEANOR HALL: What's Indonesia said about this? Is it asking anything in return? 


KEVIN ANDREWS: Well, at this stage I haven't had the detailed discussions and that's something which I'm going to do. We had quite useful discussions when we were dealing with the question of the people from Sri Lanka on the most recent boat. And it's on the basis of a sense of goodwill and cooperation between our two countries that we want to have further discussions. 


ELEANOR HALL: And just to clarify: would there be, then, a suggestion that people could arrive in Australia and you could then send then to Indonesia rather than to, say, Nauru? 


KEVIN ANDREWS: Well, that's not the primary purpose of this discussion. The primary purpose is to see whether or not anybody who ends up in Indonesia, and who has got a refugee claim, that that claim could be dealt with in Indonesia. 


If we could achieve that, then we would go a long way towards putting out of operation the people smugglers, and we would do a lot in terms of the safety of people that might otherwise be endangered by being put on a leaking fishing boat into the Indian Ocean. 


ELEANOR HALL: But would you consider sending people from Australia, rather than to Nauru to Indonesia, were you able to get this agreement? 


KEVIN ANDREWS: Well, we discussed that with Indonesia in relation to the recent boat. But our discussion was always premised on the basis, as I said before, that refugees should not be sent back to the country from which they've fled, and secondly that any processing must be done strictly under the United Nations protocols. 


ELEANOR HALL: And Minister, why are you looking at this now? Are you anticipating more problems with Nauru's Government, which has already made it clear it doesn't want to be holding asylum seekers for longer than a year? 


KEVIN ANDREWS: Our motivation is, as I said, this is a regional problem, and a regional problem ideally would have a regional solution. And it makes sense for us to talk to countries in our neighbourhood. 


They too have the problem of people smuggling, they too have the problem have the problem of refugees, or people claiming refugees in their countries and transiting through their countries, and it makes sense for us to adopt a regional approach. 


ELEANOR HALL: Kevin Andrews thanks very much for joining us. 


KEVIN ANDREWS: My pleasure. 


ELEANOR HALL: That's Kevin Andrews, the Immigration Minister.