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Canberra and Jakarta at odds over Papuan refugees

Updated On: Mar 28, 2006

Bilateral ties between Australia and Indonesia took a hit over the latter’s decision to grant temporary visa to 42 refugees from Papua. 

Whether Australia’s decision was influenced by the increase in tension in Papua and the most recent riots is unclear. But for sure, their decision was met by fast and furious attacks from the Indonesian side.  Indonesians seem to see this episode as reflecting "elements in Australia" that support a separatist movement in Papua.

Right from the top, Indonesia’s chief executive has indicated his utmost displeasure. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono called Howard personally after the news of the landing of 43 Papuans on a remote beach at Cape York in northeastern Australia in January. He assured the Australian leader that the group, which included seven children, would not be harmed if they returned home. Yudhoyono was interested in a reply from Howard on this but received zero replies. 

From the Cabinet, Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs, Widodo A S said "If we look at the process of the Papuans` arrival there, Australia`s response and the granting of the temporary protection visas, we could see as though it confirmed the truth of the speculation that there are elements in Australia helping the separatist movement," Widodo said.

Repercussions were felt immediately at the diplomatic level. A cabinet coordinative meeting was quickly convened held to discuss the Australian government`s decision. The Indonesian government has summoned its envoy Uma Thayeb from Canberra and Australia`s ambassador Bill Farmer in Jakarta for consultations. Asked when Indonesia's ambassador would leave Canberra for consultations in Jakarta, Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda told reporters: "As soon as a plane can take him home."

The Indonesian military also jumped on the bandwagon.  The Australians were accused of double standards because it had rejected applications from asylum seekers from other countries in the past. Indonesian Military chief Air Chief Marshal Djoko Suyanto said Australia was discriminatory in its handling of the Papuan request for asylum compared to a bid by Iranians to reach Australian shores and alleged that Australian coastal guards had prevented the Iranians from reaching the country, and burned their ships. "The route leading from Jayapura to Christmas Island is very rough. No one can get to the island easily, unless Australia prepared assistance for them," Djoko said.

The House of Representatives (DPR) also urged the government to freeze Indonesia`s relations with Australia. Deputy House Commission II Chairman Priyo Budi Santoso said that Indonesia and Australia had so far been cultivating good relations but the asylum seekers` case had ruined Indonesia`s trust in Australia. He urged the government to freeze its trade and diplomatic relations with Australia.

As Indonesia continued to simmer in anger over the decision by the Australians, three more Papuan citizens have reportedly sought political asylum in another neighboring country, Papua New Guinea (PNG), for fear of persecution for their involvement in the recent deadly riot in Abepura. Will PNG face the wrath ofIndonesia and stand firm in solidarity with Australia by granting asylum to the 3? 

Sources:

RI shocked by Canberra's desicion on Papuan asylum seekers (Antara, 24 March 2006)

Indonesia summons envoy from Australia over asylum (The Star, 24 March 2006)

Indonesia To Summon Home Envoy In Australia Over Asylum (Bernama, 24 March 2006)

Canberra's decision on asylum seekers shows it support Papua's separation: observer (Antara, 25 March 2006)

RI regrets Australia's decision on Papuan asylum-seekers (Antara, 25 March 2006)

Yudhoyono not touching base with Howard on visa row (Jakarta Post, 25 March 2006)

DPR to call for freezing of relations with A'lia (Antara, 26 March 2006)

Three Papuan students seek asylum in PNG: Activist (Jakarta Post, 26 March 2006)