Tue, 04 Sep 2001

'RI cannot deter' the influx of illegal migrants

JAKARTA (JP): Indonesia's efforts to prevent the influx of illegal migrants is hampered by the sheer size of the country and the limited facilities to screen visa issuance.

"The government has been discussing measures to regulate visa issuance, but it is difficult to screen the motivation of foreigners coming to the country," Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda said on Monday after a meeting with Vice President Hamzah Haz.

He said that the government was fully aware that the problem of illegal migrants was closely related to the spread of terrorism, and the drugs and illicit arms trade, while at the same time the country needed to boost tourism.

The minister also said that it was also impossible for the Indonesian Navy to monitor the entire Indonesian coastline to prevent illegal migrants from entering the country.

"We have millions of square miles of coastline. Sea patrols are not enough, our country is like a huge house without a perimeter fence," he said.

"Basically, we need international help and multilateral cooperation to handle the problem because actually this is not just our problem, since most of the migrants are heading to Australia," Hassan said in a press briefing.

The illegal migrants problem came to the fore following the presence of 438 asylum-seekers mostly from Afghanistan, on board a Norwegian ship that tried to enter Indonesia last week.

The government firmly refused to accept the freighter and so did the Australian government.

Hassan further said that despite the diplomatic standoff over the problem relations between the two countries remained good and Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and Immigration Minister Phillip Ruddock would make a visit to Indonesia on Friday.

"We are going to have a consultation meeting with Australia on defense and immigration issues," he said.

Reuters reported on Monday that an Australian operation to move 438 asylum seekers from a freighter off Christmas Island to Papua New Guinea began on Monday.

The troop carrier HMAS Manoora moved to within several hundred meters of the Norwegian freighter Tampa. Two barges to be used to transfer the asylum seekers were standing between the two ships.

The transfer was expected to take up to six hours, with conditions in Christmas Island's Flying Fish Cove windy and choppy.

A court, which had been asked to decide if Australia had acted unlawfully in refusing to accept the mostly Afghan boat people, lifted an injunction on Monday against moving them. Australia wants to move the asylum seekers to Papua New Guinea, from where they will be flown to New Zealand and Nauru.

The Tampa rescued the asylum seekers from a sinking Indonesian ferry in the Indian Ocean on Aug. 26 and has been the center of an international diplomatic standoff ever since. (dja)