A meeting of regional foreign ministers and delegates from 14 countries in Jakarta has resulted in an agreement on several fronts designed to capture and jail people smugglers. This could lead to the extradition to Australia of Sayed Abba, an Afghan wanted in Australia on 27 charges of people smuggling.
Among the delegates was Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr and his Indonesian counterpart Marty Natelegawa, who obtained signatures from 12 countries on a declaration of 27 measures against people smuggling, which included extradition measures.
People smuggling was not a crime listed for extradition between Australia and Indonesia, which led to the courts in Indonesia to reject an extradition bid for Abbas, last month.
People Smuggling is a key election issue in Australia, where polls are due on September 7. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has toughened up Labor Party policies and forged a deal with Papua New Guinea under which asylum seeker centers will be opened and applications for refugee status decided.
That move has angered human rights lobbyists in Australia who argue the government’s tough stance is crude and unfair. However, those who oppose the move have failed to provide alternative solutions to increasing numbers of people prepared to make the highly dangerous voyage in rickety, unseaworthy boats.
The government also argued that many asylum seekers are not genuine refugees but economic migrants using the asylum route in search of greener pastures, while unscrupulous people smugglers have turned the plight of the world’s least fortunate into a lucrative industry.
The overwhelming majority are from Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and Sri Lanka – countries which have been dogged by war, internal conflict and strife over the past decade.
Ida Bagus Adnyana, chief of Indonesia’s immigration enforcement agency, told Radio Australia on the sidelines of the recent conference in Jakarta that the answers to ending people smuggling remained with ending the conflicts and improving the living conditions of those seeking an escape.
"That's the key…stop conflict," he said. "Of course they need to end the conflicts, increase their people's welfare…and stop the oppressions…so citizens of those countries will not move to other countries.”
The Rudd government hailed the outcome, saying it made progress on a coordinated regional response to the problem with the representatives from countries like Sri Lanka and Afghanistan. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organization for Migration also attended the meeting which was boycotted by Iran.
Luke Hunt can be followed on Twitter at @lukeanthonyhunt.