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President calls on Gillard to free minors

Young people-smuggling crew members 'should be sent home'

  • Albertus V. Rehi, Kupang
  • Indonesia
  • July 4, 2012
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President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono yesterday requested Australia immediately release dozens of underage Indonesian crew members from people-smuggling vessels during a meeting with Prime Minister Julia Gillard in Darwin.

Welcoming Australia’s decision to release 215 Indonesian minors imprisoned on immigration charges, the Indonesian president requested a further 54 other children also be released.

“We hope the repatriation of these children can be done immediately,” he said during a joint press conference with Gillard.

It remains unclear when the last remaining children may be set free.

Many of the children that have ended up in Australian prisons come from two of the provinces closest to the country’s northern coastline, East Nusa Tenggara and West Nusa Tenggara.

Ferdi Tanoni, head of West Timor Care Foundation which is based in Kupang, the capital of East Nusa Tenggara, said many children made the difficult decision to serve as crew members on people-smuggling vessels in a bid to escape poverty.

The Timor Sea oil spill, which saw an estimated 30,000 barrels spew from a rig off the north coast of western Australia in the second half of 2009, had further worsened the economic situation for what are mostly fishing communities in Indonesia’s westernmost provinces, he added. Up to 90 percent of the surrounding waters were polluted as a result.

“They did not want to go hungry as a result of small catches,” said Tanoni. “It was better for them to find another job such as helping asylum seekers get to Australia. This offered them a great deal of money.”

The government in Jakarta should send officials to these provinces to remind people living there of the consequences of making dangerous crossings to Australia, he recommended, adding he had already made the suggestion a decade ago before the spill.

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