Australia is obliged to resettle Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, Indonesia’s Foreign Ministry says, despite Prime Minister Tony Abbott flatly refusing to consider the option.
International migration observers estimate there are thousands of people at sea in South-East Asia attempting to flee persecution or poverty, including at least 2,000 people trapped for more than 40 days on boats off Myanmar without food or water.
On Wednesday, Malaysia and Indonesia bowed to international pressure and said they would no longer turn away migrant boats, offering instead to take in a wave of asylum seekers provided they can be resettled or repatriated within a year.
They want other countries to help with resettlement but Mr Abbott said those seeking a better life needed to come through the “front door”.
He said while Australia stood ready to assist in other ways, there was no way any of those fleeing would be allowed to settle in Australia.
“Nope, nope, nope,” he said, shaking his head.
“If we do the slightest thing to encourage people to get on boats this problem will get worse, not better.
“Australia will do absolutely nothing that gives any encouragement to anyone to think that they can get on a boat, that they can work with people smugglers to start a new life.
“If you want a better life, you need to come through the front door.
“Our role is to make it absolutely crystal clear that if you get on a leaky boat, you aren’t going to get what you want.”
But Indonesia’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Arrmantha Nasir, said Australia was obliged to help as a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention.
Situation ‘maritime ping-pong’: UN
Mr Abbott last week refused to criticise Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia for turning away boats — a situation the UN described as “maritime ping-pong”.
On Thursday he said that the issue was primarily a South-East Asian one.
“This is quite properly a regional responsibility and the countries that will have to take the bulk of the responsibility are obviously the countries which are closest to the problem,” Mr Abbott said.
He singled out Myanmar, also known as Burma — where many Rohingya live in camps, denied statehood — as the root source of the problem.
“In the end the culprit is Burma, it is Burma where there is an issue,” Mr Abbott said.
Muslim Rohingya migrants who are persecuted in their homeland of Myanmar, a Buddhist country, have undergone a week of horror on people-smuggling boats, the BBC reported.
The crews of the boats abandoned them and the Rohingyas’ pleas for a safe place to land were rejected by the governments of Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, according to the report.
About 7000 people boarded boats for neighbouring countries only to be left floating in the Malacca Strait, and their attempts to reach land were stymied by the navies of Malaysia and Thailand.
But a diplomatic breakthrough has led to the three countries no longer pushing the boats into the sea.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten restated his commitment to regional resettlement.
“Labor supports regional resettlement, there’s no change in that.”
He said regional resettlement was “the right way to go”.
– with ABC