WAVES of Australia-bound asylum seekers crossing from Malaysia to Indonesia have prompted the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, to send the national security adviser, Duncan Lewis, to talk with Malaysian officials about counter measures.
This week Indonesian authorities detained scores of refugees seeking to enter Indonesia via Sumatra.
The growing influx of boat people from Afghanistan and Sri Lanka has triggered the high-level delegation to Kuala Lumpur.
The development came yesterday as Mr Rudd defended Australia's border protection as “hard line” after an Iraqi asylum seeker said he believed it would be easier to come here because of Labor's changes to migration measures.
The short journey across the Malacca Straits from Malaysia to Indonesia is a key transit point for asylum seekers, who are using well-established networks of people smugglers.
Sixty Afghans and Iraqis were picked up this week and moved to the Tanjung Pinang immigration detention centre on Batam, an Indonesian island about 50 kilometres from Malaysia. “Probably they were going to Australia,” a local Justice Ministry official, Ajat Sudrajat Havid, said.
Another 10 asylum seekers were detained in Jambi in Sumatra. Meanwhile, investigators said 33 more Afghans were discovered in North Sumatra yesterday after making the crossing by boat from Malaysia.
Afghan asylum seekers who engage human trafficking syndicates typically travel by land to Pakistan before flying to Malaysia for a night-time boat journey across the Malacca Straits to Indonesia.
They then head to Java, frequently registering with the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Jakarta, which has recently been so swamped by asylum seeker candidates that it has not even been telling Indonesian authorities of their arrival.
Malaysia is also a staging point for asylum seekers fleeing the civil war in Sri Lanka. Malaysia has a big population of Tamils, the ethnic group on the island that has been fighting the Government-backed Sinhalese majority.
Mr Lewis was accompanied by the head of Customs, Michael Carmody, and senior immigration and Australian Federal Police officers. Before leaving Kuala Lumpur yesterday, members of the delegation said the meetings with Malaysian officials were “positive”.
“There has been agreement at a conceptual level for increased co-operation and engagement to combat people smuggling,” one member said.
A similar delegation is expected to go to Sri Lanka next week.
Asylum seekers in Indonesia have told ABC radio they wanted to try to come to Australia because waiting for up to 10 years for resettlement by the UNHCR was unacceptable.
One man said although he had been declared a refugee he would try to make it to Australia because he had heard he would be more likely to be accepted by the Rudd Government than by its predecessor. “Kevin Rudd – he's changed everything about refugee,” another told the ABC.
“If I go to Australia now, different, different … maybe accepted. But when John Howard president Australia, he said come back to Indonesia.”
Yesterday Mr Rudd refused to accept that new waves of asylum seekers were trying to come to Australia since Labor won office in 2007. “The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees recently in Indonesia described our policies as tough and hard line,” Mr Rudd told the Melbourne radio station 3AW yesterday.
The Department of Defence has released photographs of the boat that exploded near Ashmore Reef nine days ago. No photos of the actual explosion were released. The pictures show medical personnel boarding the boat and survivors being treated and evacuated from it.