Indonesia, Australia agree on multilateral meeting on asylum-seekers

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President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono says Indonesia and Australia have agreed to hold a multilateral meeting on asylum-seekers involving countries where the people come from, as well as transit countries and their final destinations.

Speaking after meeting with Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, Yudhoyono said it was not fair if Indonesia and Australia have to work alone to solve the problem.

Indonesia, the world's largest archipelagic nation with thousands of islands and miles (kilometers) of unpatrolled coastline, has become a major transit point for people fleeing war-torn countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Sri Lanka.

Hundreds of asylum-seekers have died in sea accidents on hazardous sea journeys from Indonesia to Australia.

Data from the UNHCR, the UN's refugee agency, show a growing number of asylum-seekers, especially from Afghanistan, Somalia, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar, enter Indonesia each year in search of better lives. A total of 8,584 people — refugees and asylum-seekers — were registered with UNHCR Indonesia at the end of January.

"All these countries need to sit together and seriously find out a solution," Yudhoyono said. "We need effective cooperation and responsibility of all countries, not only Indonesia and Australia."

Rudd, who arrived Thursday for a two-day visit, his first overseas trip since becoming prime minister for a second time a week ago, backed Yudhoyono's initiative.

"This problem of people smuggling is a problem for our entire region," Rudd said.

No schedule for the proposed meeting was set. It would also include countries such as Malaysia and Thailand.

At least 55 people died when a boat going from Indonesia to Australia capsized last month, and Yopi Haryadi, an official of the Indonesia's search and rescue agency, said Friday that another boat carrying about 80 asylum-seekers was reportedly taking on water about 145 kilometers (90 miles) off the Indonesian town of Garut in the southern coast of Java.