ASIA NEWS NETWORK
WE KNOW ASIA BETTER
Australia to buy 16 vessels to stop boat people
Publication Date : 10-01-2014
The Australian government is to buy 16 lifeboat-type craft for their border protection ships to carry undocumented migrants back to Indonesia, a move which could cause fresh tension between the neighboring countries.
According to the Associated Press (AP) news agency, local media group Fairfax Media reported that Australia was buying 16 engine-powered and enclosed boats, similar to the lifeboats carried by cruise ships and other large vessels, to prevent migrants attempting to enter the country through Indonesian waters.
The Indonesian and Australian governments are still at loggerheads following the move on Monday by the Australian navy to turn back a boat carrying 45 suspected undocumented migrants into Indonesian waters.
The revelation could further damage relationships between the two countries, relationships that recently hit a new low following allegations Australian intelligence agencies spied on President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s inner circle.
Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison, however, refused to comment on the matter. “The government’s policy of no public comment on operational matters is based on the advice of [the] border protection agency and operational leaders to protect our operations and to ensure that they can be conducted with maximum safety and effectiveness for all involved,” Morrison said as quoted by the AP.
“The government will continue to take all steps necessary to stop the boats consistent with our commitments to the Australian people and to protect the safety of life at sea,” he added. Morrison also refused to comment on the navy’s repelling of the migrant boat, which carried 28 Somali nationals, nine Sudanese, two Eritreans, three Egyptians and three individuals from Ghana, Lebanon and Yemen to Rote Ndao waters in East Nusa Tenggara.
The local police found the migrants, nine of whom were women, aboard the boat adrift after it had failed to enter Australia.
The incident was the second revealed to the public after Indonesia and Australia halted coordinated patrols due to the heightened political tension following the spying allegations. Last December the Rote Ndao Police also detained 47 migrants from the Middle East stranded in Rote Ndao waters while attempting to enter Australia.
Government institutions tasked by President Yudhoyono to handle the boat-people issue; the Office of the Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister, the Defense Ministry, Foreign Ministry and National Police have responded differently to the problem. Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa has previously emphasized that “turning back the boats is not a solution”.
TNI Commander Gen. Moeldoko said the Australian government’s decision to turn back boats carrying migrants attempting to reach its shores was “justifiable” as he had made an agreement with the Australian Defence Force chief Gen. David Hurley.
On Wednesday, Moeldoko reiterated that the Australian authorities had the right to turn back boats that had Indonesian crews on board.
Quoting Hurley, Moeldoko told reporters before a TNI leadership meeting on Wednesday, “Don’t get offended if we [Australia] turn them back to Indonesian waters. There’s no way we could send them to the waters of Papua New Guinea.”
When asked whether he had informed other relevant institutions about the agreement he made with Hurley over the telephone two weeks ago, Moeldoko said that “it is a fair game that everyone will understand.”
Separately, presidential spokesman Julian Aldrin Pasha said that the President had yet to discuss the conflicting statements over the issue.
“I haven’t heard the statements directly from the relevant officials so I don’t know about them. Also, the President has yet to discuss the issue,” Julian said.