Hundreds perish while politicians bicker: Indonesian view
The latest proof of their inability to meet the challenge is the loss during World Refugee Week (which ended June 23) of maybe 90 souls in the seas south of Java. In the two years before this latest tragedy at least 250 people drowned trying to get to Australia. There may well be more. Journalists from the ABC TV program Four Corners claim a boat with 97 people on board disappeared in November 2010, unrecorded by authorities.
Added to the horror of death at sea is the appalling anguish suffered by the victims’ families, desperate people who gambled their relatives for a better future and lost.
They’ll be crippled by grief for the rest of their lives for making that flawed decision. Before this latest catastrophe, more than 4,000 people had made it to Australian territory this year, usually landing at Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean, just 360 kilometers south of Jakarta.
Asylum seekers who come from Sri Lanka allege government persecution through links with the secessionist Tamil Tigers. Middle Eastern refugees have been fleeing war or religious persecution. Persian-speaking Hazaras, mainly Shiite Muslims from Afghanistan, Pakistan and neighboring nations have featured prominently. Most refugee boats set off from Indonesia. People smuggling is illegal, however the number who openly use the Republic as a transit lounge between their homeland and Australia indicate the police aren’t doing their job properly and their political masters are unconcerned.
Others are setting sail from India, Sri Lanka and Malaysia. The Australian Federal Police are supposed to be working with regional authorities to detect the asylum seekers before they embark. Though police seldom catch the evildoers, journalists have found the people traffickers who openly organize the boats, charging thousands of dollars for the risky trip. Domestic politics in the countries along the route taken by the distressed seeking safety and a better life, plus a few devious criminals and economic refugees, have maintained the tragedy. The comment most commonly heard among Indonesians is that this is an Australian problem. Indonesia hasn’t signed the 1951 UN Convention on the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocols, so is perceived to have no responsibility beyond pointing asylum seekers towards their destination.
To his credit Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa has been pushing for a regional solution. Doubtless to his dismay, no one seems to have given serious ear to his suggestion, although the Australian government has been toying with new policies. One was to send 800 fresh arrivals to Malaysian refugee camps in return for 4,000 people deemed genuine refugees and deserving of third country settlem ent.