An Indonesian lawmaker has criticized Australia’s asylum seeker policy, warning that it threatens to damage relations between the two countries. Tantowi Yahya, a prominent member of Indonesia’s Foreign Affairs Commission, described the new policy as “offensive” and “illegal” under international law, in an interview with the ABC.
The newly elected Australian government officially began its border protection plan Wednesday, with hopes of deterring asylum seekers from making the dangerous journey to Australia by boat. Under the policy, the navy will tow vessels back to Indonesia, a common transit point. Australian police placed in Indonesia will also buy old boats from fishermen and pay members of the community to spy on people smuggling operations.
Yahya said that key aspects of the policy had not been discussed with Indonesian officials and his country’s parliament would “fully reject” the plan. “It becomes our concern because, firstly, it might potentially jeopardize our already good relationships in the past,” he said. “And second, the policy which is going to be implemented by Mr Abbott clearly [affects] our sovereignty as an independent country.”
Prime Minister Abbott responded to the concerns on Thursday, saying that he was “very confident that this government will be able to work effectively with the Indonesian government.”
Earlier this week, Australia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop said the government would ask for Indonesia’s understanding, rather than its permission, as it tries to stop the boats. Abbott is expected to visit Indonesia to discuss the government’s border protection with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in the coming weeks.