Australia’s new policies designed to stem an influx of boatpeople will not deter thousands of asylum-seekers from trying to reach the country, a top Indonesian immigration official said on Friday.
Australia recently announced it will send asylum-seekers arriving by boat to remote Pacific islands as a means of stopping them from making the dangerous sea voyage, and also increased the number of refugees it accepts.
But the policies have yet to halt a record number of boats from being picked up in Australian waters, and Indonesia’s head of immigration enforcement has told state broadcaster ABC that they will not deter boatpeople.
Djoni Muhammad said there were some 100,000 people across the region, including in Indonesia and Malaysia, who want to leave for Australia and sending them offshore would not halt the tide.
“It’s a dilemma really. If the asylum-seekers in Indonesia got sent there (to Australia) sooner, it would just be like an advertisement,” he said.
“Other people waiting in Malaysia and other places would immediately come here saying, ‘It’s good in Indonesia; it’s a much swifter process there’.”
Asked what the answer was to stopping people heading to Australia, he replied: “No answer.”
There are an estimated 6,000 asylum-seekers in Indonesia and some of those travelling there have reportedly caused problems for residents, including in Bogor in west Java where their presence has prompted protests by locals.
“In the end it’s not an easy problem to solve. We don’t have the facilities, and we only have 13 immigration detention centres,” Muhammad told the ABC.
“At the moment immigration is looking into finding some locations but after what’s happened in Bogor, we are now being careful.”
Muhammad said with so many people waiting for refugee status in the region, Canberra’s decision to send as many as 2,100 to the Pacific state of Nauru or Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island would not make a difference.
“It’s a problem,” he said.
Australia recently toughened its refugee policies in response to a record influx of people-smuggling boats – more than 200 vessels carrying in excess of 13,360 passengers since January 1.
Asylum-seekers arriving by boat are now liable to be sent to spartan camps on Nauru or Manus and kept in detention camps for indefinite periods in a move that has been criticised by human rights groups.
Canberra hopes the measures will deter people from paying smugglers for passage, often from Indonesia or Sri Lanka on rickety and overcrowded boats.