Wednesday, May 27, 2009

900 boatpeople seized en route in Indonesia

(The Australian) -ALMOST 900 suspected asylum seekers have been detained by Indonesian police while en route to Australia.

As border protection authorities prepare to spend millions of taxpayer dollars in an effort to disrupt people-smugglers before they set sail, a top Indonesian defence official has warned that Australia should get used to an increased flow of boats.

Defence Minister Juwono Sudarsono said stemming the flow of boatpeople from the archipelago would require even closer bilateral co-operation between Australia and Indonesia.

"I think you are condemned by your prosperity to be a magnet for all kinds of people - illegal fisherman, refugees," Dr Sudarsono told The Australian in Jakarta yesterday. "I can't find a long-term solution for you. The best we can do is to increase our capacity to intercept."

Yesterday, a Senate estimates committee hearing was told that since September, Indonesian police had detained 887 people suspected of entering the country with a view to travelling to Australia.

Australian Federal Police deputy commissioner Tony Negus told the committee the figure did not include the 749 asylum seekers caught by Australian border protection authorities.

"So you're talking well in excess of 1500 people in the last six or seven months," he said.

The figures came as outgoing commissioner Mick Keelty denied reports the AFP had produced intelligence briefings for the Rudd Government warning that policy changes would encourage people-smugglers. Under questioning from Opposition legal affairs spokesman George Brandis, who appeared to be reading from part or all of an AFP document, Mr Keelty said the AFP did not produce intelligence reports for government.

"There is no report that I have authored to the minister or any minister in this Government to describe in any way, shape or form the impact of their policy on people-smuggling," he said.

But in a cryptic line of questioning, Senator Brandis asked Mr Keelty if he was familiar with a document entitled Strategic Forecast for Transnational Criminal Trends and Threats. Mr Keelty said he was not.

Senator Brandis then asked. "Did that document contain these words? 'Reporting indicates that people-smugglers will market recent changes in Australia's immigration policy to entice potential illegal immigrants. This may cause a rise on the number of attempted arrivals."'

Citing a long-standing convention that intelligence matters not be discussed at estimates, Mr Keelty refused to answer.

Dr Sudarsono said he saw the issue of illegal migrants linked with political stability in Indonesia as a long-standing security concern for Australia.

He said he fully understood Canberra's concern that Indonesia not become a filter for illegal migrants from other parts: "You are an attractive place economically, and you are so underpopulated that you are a constant magnet from various parts of the world. Indonesia has been a staging point for many of these illegal migrants."

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