Published On: Mon, Sep 30th, 2013

Australian PM Abbott talks migration with Indonesian President Yudhoyono

Australian PM Abbott talks migration with Indonesian President Yudhoyono

Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott speaks beside Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono during a joint news conference at the Presidential Palace in Jakarta (Photo: REUTERS/Beawiharta)

Australia’s prime minister has called migration discussions with Indonesia’s president constructive. Meanwhile, the toll continues to climb from the latest boat tragedy involving Australia-bound migrants.

On his first trip abroad since taking office on September 18, Australian Prime MInister Tony Abbott (left in photo) met with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (right).

This came just days after a boat packed with migrants sank in Indonesian waters, killing more than 30 people and leaving dozens more missing. Survivors of the accident claim that they had sent their GPS coordinates to Australian rescuers but no one came to their aid.

“We are resolved together, united, to tackle this problem and to beat it, on land and at sea and at the borders of our countries,” Abbott said. “We are determined to end this scourge, which is not just an affront to our two countries, but which has so often become a humanitarian disaster in the seas between our two countries.”

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, Trade Minister Andrew Robb and 20 businesspeople joined Abbott for the trip. During the talks, the Australian prime minister also stressed the importance of boosting economic ties between the two countries from currently as much 14.6 billion Australian dollars ($13.6 billion, 10 billion euros) a year. He also said that his country would create a new Australian-Indonesian study center at Monash University in Melbourne.

‘Solution is cooperation’

The two countries have long stood at odds when it comes to questions of migration, with Indonesia often serving as a transit point for people looking to reach Australia’s Christmas Island. Thousands board rickety fishing boats every year to make the often deadly journey, which typically crosses about 340 kilometers (210 miles) of open sea. More than 50,000 mostly Middle Eastern migrants have arrived in Australian waters by boat from Indonesia in the past five years after paying people smugglers.

Abbott won the September 7 election, partly on the promise that he would stop boats carrying migrants from making the journey to Australia. Yudhoyono agreed that the two countries must work closely together to combat the problem.

“The solution is cooperation,” Yudhoyono said, adding that the two countries would work out the specific details at a future meeting.

Sticking points

About 400 boats carrying migrants landed in Australia over the past 12 months, with about 45,000 asylum seekers coming to the country since 2007, when the then-Labor government relaxed border policies, eventually tightening them again in the face of a voter backlash. Indonesian officials express worry that Australia’s stopping of migrant boats would strand the estimated 10,000 foreigners waiting for passage, and create a domestic problem for them.

Abbott, however, insists on his country’s right to thwart the entry into Australian waters of vessels crewed by Indonesians and flying the country’s flag while carrying migrants aboard. The previous Labor government stopped short of turning boats back for fear of angering Indonesia and jeopardizing efforts to get the country to take stronger measures against the smuggling trade.

On Friday, a boat thought to have carried more than 100 migrants from the Middle East, mostly from Lebanon, sank off West Java’s Sukabumi district after high waves hit it. The exact number of people aboard the boat is not known.

The search continued on Monday for several people believed missing after the rescue of 35 survivors from that boat. Officials found seven more bodies late Sunday and early on Monday, bringing the confirmed death toll to 36, said Captain Warsono, police chief of Agrabinta in the neighboring district of Cianjur.

mkg/pfd (Reuters, dpa, AP)

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