Jakarta calls for refugee help

Australia’s Christmas Island Immigration Detention Centre. Source: Wikimedia

The Indonesian foreign minister has challenged Australia and other countries to do more to deal with the refugee crisis.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is in Indonesia for a people smuggling, trafficking and transnational crime summit in Bali and her Indonesian counterpart Retno Marsudi said more help was needed.

Marsudi said Indonesia was sheltering more than 13,000 refugees awaiting resettlement, including 2,000 more recent arrivals from Bangladesh and Myanmar.

She said she hoped Australia would be more receptive to asylum seekers. Last September Canberra said it would accept 12,000 refugees from Syria and Iraq on top of its commitment to take 13,750 migrants this financial year.

Bishop said it amounted to the largest influx of asylum seekers to Australia since 1951, in reference to European refugees who arrived after the Second World War.

Australia also currently forces more than 1,500 refugees to remain in offshore processing centres on Nauru and Papua New Guinea’s island of Manus.

Anyone attempting to reach Australia by boat is sent to the controversial detention centres, at which riots, hunger strikes and two deaths have been reported. It is, however, undeniable that the policy has driven down migration numbers.

Bishop’s Indonesian visit this week includes trade talks and the opening of a third diplomatic post in the country.

She is due to open a new embassy in Jakarta and a consulate-general in Makassar on Sulawesi, which is a key commercial hub for Australian traders in the east of the archipelago.

Bishop will co-chair the Bali summit.

Meanwhile Indonesia’s Director General for Strategic Defence Yoedhi Swastanto called for stronger ties with Australia.

“We are not only a neighbour country but we should be brothers,” Major-General Swastanto said.

“So for us Australia is not a threat. We don’t have big issues. There are some small ones [which] is pretty normal to happen between two neighbour countries,” the general said. “Of course, every country has its own interest, but we have similarity.”

Payne and Indonesian Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu will discuss the two countries’ recent defence white papers and areas for strategic co-operation, including counter-terrorism, maritime security, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, peacekeeping and intelligence.

China’s installation of military hardware on disputed islands in the South China Sea, through which about 60 per cent of Australian trade sails, has increased tensions in the region, although Indonesia has no competing claims with China.

“We have common interest to maintaining security and stability in this region,” Yoedhi said. “As a member of the global regional community we have to pay attention to this area because it could impact our national interest and national security.”

President Joko Widodo’s strategic goal is for Indonesia to be a maritime “fulcrum” between Indian Ocean and Pacific powers like China and the US.

Payne said Australia was looking to increase its international engagement.

“As the white paper says, Australia’s relationship with Indonesia is vital and a strong and productive bilateral relationship is critical to Australia’s national security,” she said.

“The government undertook an extensive international consultation during the development of the white paper and we briefed a number of nations, including Indonesia, before its release.”