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Indonesia says Bali Process failure on refugee crisis “must not happen again”

BALI – Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi has issued a blunt warning that the failure of the key regional forum on people smuggling to address the refugee crisis in South-east Asia last year “must not happen again”.

“As we observed last May 2015, the Bali Process was unable to address sudden movements of irregular migration in the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal,” said Ms Retno, who co-chaired the Bali Process Ministerial Conference with Foreign Minister Julie Bishop in Bali on Wednesday.

“This must not happen again.”

Heads of delegations pose for a photograph during the opening of the Bali Process regional ministerial meeting.

The UN estimates 370 people perished at sea during the South-east Asia refugee crisis last year, many of them Rohingya fleeing persecution in Myanmar.

The Bali Process, which has 48 member countries and international organisations including the UN Refugee Agency, was founded in 2002 to develop strategies on people smuggling, human trafficking and transnational crime.

For the first time this year it will produce a ministerial declaration, including a new mechanism that will allow co-chairs Australia and Indonesia to convene and consult in response to urgent events in the region.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Immigration Minister Peter Dutton at a press conference on the sidelines of the Bali.

An Amnesty International report found Rohingya were killed or severely beaten by human traffickers if their families failed to pay ransoms and were kept in hellish conditions at sea during the crisis last May.

Australia came under criticism last year for refusing to resettle any of the Rohingyas or reverse its policy that had ended the resettlement of all refugees who registered with UNHCR Indonesia after July 1, 2014.

After initially pushing back boats, Indonesia agreed to provide shelter to 1800 Bangladeshi migrants and persecuted Rohingya refugees on the proviso they would be resettled by the international community within a year.

Indonesian Foreign Minister and Bali Process co-chair Retno Marsudi addresses delegates. She told them that the Bali.

“Indonesia believes, in this case, [the] humanitarian aspect must prevail,” Ms Retno said in her opening address at the Bali Process.

“It was for this reason that Indonesia went the extra mile in accepting irregular migrants last year. But the task at hand is much bigger than one country can handle by itself.”

Only 300 of the 1000 Rohingyas taken in by Indonesia remain in the temporary accommodation set up in North Sumatra and Aceh, with many believed to have paid people smugglers to take them to Malaysia.

All but 100 of the 800 Bangladeshis, most of whom were economic migrants, have been repatriated back to Bangladesh.

Ms Retno said the Bali Process must be able to answer the humanitarian question.

“We must find durable solutions that will not burden countries with limited resources,” she said.

In an interview with Fairfax Media last week, Ms Retno said she hoped other countries – including Australia – would assist with resettling more than 13,000 refugees and asylum seekers, saying Indonesia lacked the capacity to shelter them long-term.

When an al-Jazeera journalist said Indonesia had made it clear it wanted Australia to take more refugees, Ms Bishop said: “I take issue with that. In fact Indonesia has asked all countries in the membership of the Bali Process to consider doing more.”

Ms Bishop said  Australia had one of the most significant refugee and humanitarian programs in the world with 13,750 places a year, rising to 18,750 in 2018-19.

“We have taken about 2000 people from Indonesia over the last few years who have been deemed to be refugees,” she said. “Australia is already playing a significant role and we urge other countries to do similarly.”

Ms Bishop launched an international strategy to combat human trafficking and slavery, which she said would complement a domestic plan, for which $50 million had been allocated from 2013-2018.

Under the strategy Australia would work with other countries in the region on sharing information, cooperating in investigations and working with businesses to ensure supply chains were free from forced labour, trafficking and domestic servitude.

No new funding was announced for the strategy.

Note: Changes have been made,THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD is not responsible for these.