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Indonesia to take asylum seekers

A boatload of asylum seekers rescued in international waters by an Australian customs vessel will be taken to Indonesia to have their refugee claims processed.


Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono agreed during a bilateral meeting in Jakarta that the 78 asylum seekers, believed to be Sri Lankans, should be taken to Indonesia for “humanitarian reasons”.

“There’s a sick child on board, and the president is quite concerned about the health of this sick child,” Dr Yudhoyono’s spokesman, Dino Patti Djalal, told reporters.

The asylum seekers would be taken to Merak, in western Java, where an earlier group of more than 250 Sri Lankan asylum seekers were already being accommodated, he said.

“The passengers on the (Australian) boat will be allowed to temporarily, and I underline the word temporarily, be accommodated in our territory,” Dino said.

“Very, very, soon afterwards we will facilitate international officials to handle their case.”

The Oceanic Viking picked up the asylum seekers, who were on board a boat in Indonesia’s search and rescue zone which had been deemed unsafe, on Sunday.

Indonesia-Australia cooperation

The leaders also agreed to develop within weeks a “clear framework” on how to deal with future asylum seekers, Dino said. “So we don’t deal with this on an ad hoc basis.”

Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said the the agreement was “a very good humanitarian result”.

“It is a very good example of cooperation between Australia and Indonesia and it’s a very good example of Australia quite correctly discharging its humanitarian and safety at sea obligations, and that’s been a very important part of this process,” he said.

Mr Rudd and Dr Yudhoyono also discussed terrorism and natural disaster responses.

Earlier on Tuesday, Mr Rudd had also discussed people smuggling with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.

In Australia, Malcolm Turnbull ratcheted up the rhetoric over asylum seekers when – in echoes of John Howard – he thundered that Australia should decide “who comes to this country”.

During a heated question time on Tuesday, Mr Turnbull led the charge against the Rudd government, accusing it of putting out the red carpet for asylum seekers by softening its border-protection policy.

Turnbull blasts border policy

But the argument fell flat as Julia Gillard, the acting prime minister, swatted away question after question on the issue, mocking the coalition for being disinterested in the facts about asylum-seeker arrivals.

Dr Yudhoyono was sworn in for a second five-year term at a ceremony in Jakarta on Tuesday morning, following his re-election in July.

During his speech, Dr Yudhoyono thanked Mr Rudd and other world leaders for attending the event.

“The attendance of international friends at the inauguration today is a symbol of goodwill and unmeasurable honour for Indonesia,” Dr Yudhoyono said.

Dr Yudhoyono promised Indonesia would continue to be a free and democratic country, committed to justice and world peace.

“Indonesia will cooperate with anyone who has the same good intentions as us, especially to build a peaceful world order,” he said.

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