Indonesia 'Caught by Surprise' Over Australia Boat Turnbacks

Australia's harsh immigration policy as been a point of contention between the two countries. (AFP Photo/Timur Matahari)

By : Agence France-Presse | on 8:41 PM May 21, 2014
Category : News, Politics, International, SE Asia

Sydney. Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa has criticized the Australian government for a lack of communication over its turning back of asylum-seeker boats to his country, saying "we are somewhat caught by surprise."

Natalegawa, who spoke to Australian broadcaster SBS late Tuesday, said that "this is certainly not something that we really appreciate."

Indonesia has been angered by Australia's efforts to stem the flow of asylum-seekers by establishing a military-led operation to turn the boats back to its Southeast Asian neighbor, where many originate.

Tensions between the two countries also grew after the Australian navy admitted entering Indonesia's territorial waters during some of the turnback operations.

"It often comes to our notice when such a policy takes place after the event," Natalegawa said, adding in response to a question on whether Australia notifies Indonesia when it turns back boats that "we are somewhat caught by surprise to be honest."

"So far it's been a very testing situation because we are seeing a policy that is often very difficult for us to be giving the impression of working hand-in-hand in unity," he said.

Natalegawa said he was in regular contact with Australia's Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and that "it's very, very important to have these communications established."

"We want to ensure that there is no miscommunication and misunderstanding and that the issue doesn't get out of hand," he said.

Earlier this month, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott cancelled a trip to Bali amid reports an ongoing turnback operation could renew tensions between the countries.

Natalegawa said the strained relationship between Australia and Indonesia was on the mend as the world's fourth most populous country prepares for its July presidential election.

"I think we are now back on the upward trajectory, you are quite correct we've had a somewhat difficult time recently, but both governments are working earnestly and with a great deal of urgency to try to get the relationship to back where it was before," he said. "I am keen to ensure that when the baton is passed from this government to the next, it will be passed where Indonesia and Australia relations are already back on track, so we must ensure that the situation gets managed quickly."

Under its tough policy, Canberra not only turns asylum-seekers boats around but denies would-be refugees resettlement by sending them to Papua New Guinea and the Pacific island nation of Nauru.

Agence France-Presse

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