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Iran, the country responsible for the bulk of Australia's recent influx of boat arrivals, has snubbed a meeting of ministers and diplomats in Jakarta designed to address the issue.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono proposed the one-day “Special Conference on the Irregular Movement of People” as the key announcement from their bilateral meeting in Indonesia in July.
The conference is touted as an “action oriented” meeting, presumably to differentiate it from the regular Bali Process meetings which have shown few concrete results.
Australia has sent two ministers — Foreign Minister Bob Carr and Immigration Minister Tony Burke — while some other countries sent more junior representatives, but Iran did not even respond to the invitation.
A spokesman for the Iranian embassy in Jakarta told Fairfax that no representative was at the conference because “there was no decision from Tehran” about it.
Iranians have been by far the largest cohort of people arriving by boat this year, with 6996 Iranians out of 18,602 total arrivals, an Immigration Department spokesman confirmed.
Fairfax Media understands that the flow from Iran continues, despite the Papua New Guinea solution.
More than 300 new asylum seekers have arrived in the past few days, a very large majority of which are Iranians. This is likely to change dramatically after Indonesia cut off the right of Iranians to a “visa on arrival”. That ban began Tuesday.
Indonesian foreign minister Marty Natalegawa said in opening remarks that the conference should be considered to be part of the Bali Process, which last met in April.
“We are here to discuss and share concerns about challenges ahead of us,” he said.
Twelve ministers including the two Australians are attending the meeting, including ministers from Afghanistan, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Papua New Guinea and New Zealand.
Thailand sent the head of its national security committee and Pakistan sent a Charge d'Affaires at the embassy.
Michael Bachelard is Fairfax's foreign editor and the investigations editor at The Age. He has worked in Canberra, Melbourne and Jakarta as Fairfax's Indonesia correspondent. He and has written two books and won multiple awards for journalism, including the Gold Walkley in 2017.
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