‘We’re simply not going to allow people to travel through other countries, whether it be Indonesia or Sri Lanka or wherever, to get on a boat, come to Australia and set up shop’
JAKARTA, Indonesia (Feb. 4, 2016) — Australian Ambassador to Indonesia Paul Grigson backed his Government’s decision to turn back asylum seeker boats when possible.
“The policy is working,” Grigson told Rappler earlier this week, saying it had stemmed the flow of asylum seekers heading to Australia.
He also said Australia would not change their stance on boat turnbacks.
“What is not going to happen is people choosing to come, how they like and when they like,” he said.
“We’re simply not going to allow people to travel through other countries, whether it be Indonesia or Sri Lanka or wherever, to get on a boat, come to Australia and set up shop.”
“More importantly to me, [ocean crossings] are extremely dangerous,” he said, adding there are safe and legal channels for people who want to migrate to Australia.
Over 1200 asylum seekers died at sea trying to reach Australia between 2008 and 2013, with just under 2000 having died since the turn of the century.
However, refugees caught under mandatory detention laws have spent up to 5 years in detention centers, with several suicides and at least one case of an asylum seeker beaten to deaths by guards.
Australia and Indonesia have had a tumultuous relationship over asylum seeker policy in recent years, with Australia turning back boats, and allegedly paying asylum seekers to return to Indonesia.
Australia has also been called out by human rights organizations for alleged abuses against asylum seekers, including those detained in detention on Manus Island and Nauru.
But Grigson said Indonesia and Australia are on the same page when it comes to people traveling by boat to Australia.
“I think it is a policy area where at times I think we have differed, but I think both of us have come to the conclusion that this is a problem neither of us can solve alone,” he said.
He said the upcoming Bali Conference in March on illegal immigration would help the two nations work towards a more permanent “medium-term” solution, which would help Australia and Indonesia “go forward into the future.”
However, Grigson said the issue no longer gets in the way of the new governments, as he says the policy is “working”.
“The boats have stopped, there are fewer people drowning at sea, and I think the effect of [boat turnbacks] will flow through Indonesia too,” he said.
The ambassador also said Australia has one of the strongest migration policies in the world.
He said Australia “is very welcoming of refugees,” adding that “refugees have made a very significant contribution to Australia for a very long time.”
Since the British First Fleet arrived in 1776, Australia has welcomed waves of Afghan, Chinese, European, Vietnamese and more into the country.
More recently however, 212,000 people moved to Australia from 2013 to 2014, which was down nearly 10% from the year before.