Date: August 13 2012
Indonesia has welcomed the recommendations of the independent expert panel on asylum seekers, urging Australia to quickly take some or all of the 5000-plus registered refugees who are awaiting passage.
Johnny Hutauruk, the deputy head of Indonesia's Human Trafficking, Refugees and Asylum Seekers desk, said the panel's recommendation to take more refugees from Indonesia was "the thing we always say".
"We don't have the figure of how many should be taken each year but it would be good if Australia could take many of them, all of them if possible," Mr Hutauruk told The Age.
The country's search and rescue agency, Basarnas, also welcomed the recommendation that the two countries' rescue operations cooperate more fully, saying it wanted Australia to give it an ocean-going boat and a helicopter.
The report of the panel, chaired by Angus Houston, confirmed that the number of people found to be genuine refugees in Indonesia had risen fast in recent years, from about 200 in 2005 to 4000 now, mainly driven by an increase in Hazaras from Afghanistan.
But Indonesia estimates that many more between 5000 and 10,000 may be living in towns in rural parts of Indonesia and searching for a route to Australia.
The Houston panel found that bilateral cooperation with Indonesia should be "advanced as a matter of urgency".
Part of that was for Australia to increase the intake of refugees currently in Indonesia.
The panel also recommended improving cooperation between the two countries on "joint surveillance and response . . . law enforcement and search and rescue coordination".
And it suggested easing the law regarding Indonesian fishermen in Australian jails, under which they are subject to mandatory jail sentences.
Mr Hutauruk said there was a strong perception in Indonesia that Australia was "tightly" selecting asylum seekers by choosing "the skilful ones, people with good education, the young".
He has previously urged Australia to open the gates, saying that cultural conflicts between refugees and locals in Indonesia were increasing in areas where many of them live. Some asylum seekers were involved in drugs and crime, or were illegally marrying local women, he has said.
Of the panel's recommendation that the Indonesian crew of asylum boats could be tried or serve prison sentences in Indonesia rather than Australia, Mr Hutauruk said it would be difficult for Indonesia to prove their guilt.
"They are arrested in Australia even if they started in Indonesia," he said. "They would be freed if there is not enough evidence and it would help encourage [the] people-smuggling business."
Gagah Prakoso, the spokesman for search and rescue agency Basarnas, said the best thing Australia could do to help Indonesia's search and rescue capacity was to give it a boat.
"Basarnas doesn't have big rescue boats that can sail in the open ocean," Mr Gagah said. "The only ones we have are smaller boats that can only sail in light seas.."
In addition, he said, Basarnas would like "a helicopter with the capacity of 15 to 20 people".
"The only ones we have is 15 metres. It can only rescue five people."
Australia and Indonesia announced further cooperation between the Australian Maritime Safety Authority and Basarnas after the recent Darwin meeting between Julia Gillard and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. However, that only meant strengthening Basarnas' ability to communicate with merchant vessels conducting rescues.
Australia has until now resisted Indonesian requests for more equipment.
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