July 18, 2013
The Indonesian justice minister has signed a letter that will make it harder for people from Iran to enter the country, a move which could slow the flow of people on their way to seeking asylum in Australia.
Indonesia’s justice and human rights department has confirmed the signing of what is in effect a ministerial decree that will stop people from Iran obtaining a visa on arrival.
The minister, Amir Syamsuddin, has told the ABC the changes follow a request from Prime Minister Kevin Rudd last week.
A spokeswoman for Mr Rudd says the Prime Minister specifically mentioned Iranian arrivals during his recent discussions with Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
She says any action to tighten the arrangements is welcome.
Indonesia’s visa system allows citizens from more than 60 countries to arrive in the country, pay a fee, and receive a visa for 30 days.
It is not yet known when the restriction on Iranians will take effect.
Indonesia is a transit destination for people on their way to Australia to seek asylum, with thousands taking the risky boat ride.
At the end of June, 12 per cent of people registered with the UN’s refugee agency in Indonesia were from Iran.
Foreign Minister Bob Carr has said a large number of asylum seekers arriving in Australia, particularly those from Iran, are “economic migrants” rather than genuine refugees.
Closer look at visa regimes
Earlier this month Mr Yudhoyono and Mr Rudd announced a regional conference to discuss people smuggling.
At a later address to the National Press Club, Mr Rudd said one of the advantages to be achieved through such a conference was to examine regional visa regimes.
“That is, visas and regimes which allow too easy access to various countries in the region,” he said.
The Prime Minister has said he wants to tighten refugee processing laws and has flagged that he may seek changes to the United Nations’ 1951 Refugee Convention.
On Wednesday night the Australian Navy rescued another 120 asylum seekers after their boat got into trouble near Christmas Island.
Just a day earlier four people drowned when their boat capsized in rough seas.
An international policy expert says Mr Rudd’s chances of changing the refugee convention are slim to none.
Professor William Maley, director of the Asia Pacific College of Diplomacy at the Australian National University, says Mr Rudd has very limited scope to change the text of the document.