The recent plan by Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews to send Sri Lankan asylum seekers back to Indonesia backfired when Indonesia confirmed the asylum seekers would then be sent back to Sri Lanka.
This would have constituted a serious breach of Australia’s international commitments on refugees, so the idea was abandoned and the asylum seekers were sent to Nauru instead.
Mr Andrews now thinks it might be a good idea to have asylum seekers processed in Indonesia, and says he will talk to his Indonesian counterparts about such a proposal. One can only ask, what is Mr Andrews thinking, and is he taking advice from his department on this?
Indonesia will be reluctant to position itself as Australia’s “Indian Ocean solution”, unless there is a sizable commitment by Australia to funding refugee resettlement more generally. That sort of commitment, while possible, would be well outside the scope of Mr Andrews’ proposal.
Otherwise, Indonesia is going to be unlikely to want to become what amounts to a prison on Australia’s behalf.
Beyond this, Indonesia has still not signed the UN convention on refugees, which means the easiest way for Indonesia to deal with asylum seekers will continue to be to simply say “sorry, you don’t qualify, go back”, as they proposed with the recent Sri Lankans. Indeed, one might interpret Mr Andrews’ proposal as paying Indonesia to do just that.
Mr Andrews’ proposal also does not take into account the continuing serious problems with corruption in the Indonesian administration, which could mean that asylum seekers buy their freedom in any case, or languish in sub-standard conditions if they’re broke. It’s common to pay for extra food and basic necessities in Indonesian jails.
And it also doesn’t take into account what might happen if those asylum seekers are from West Papua. There’s no doubt that West Papuan asylum seekers being “processed” in Indonesia would fit well into the framework of the controversial Lombok security treaty. But it will further present Australia with the bind that it still has to consider those inconvenient international obligations.