‘Resettle regional refugees, not Syrians’

Indonesia has urged Australia to help resettle refugees in Southeast Asia, rather than just focusing on the Syrian crisis, saying it could be “cheaper” to do so.

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Speaking at the opening day of the Bali Process on Tuesday, Hasan Kleib from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said he understood Australia was currently “occupied by the European influx”.

“But still we invite not only Australia but New Zealand and other developed countries … to increase their (refugee intake) quotas,” he told reporters.

“So rather than taking from Europe, maybe if there is any registered refugees who have already been cleared by the UNHCR they might be available to be considered.

“It might be closer and cheaper to send them there,” he added.

The comments mark a softening in language from Indonesia which has been calling for Australia to do more in the weeks leading up to this week’s meeting.

The conference, which will be attended by Foreign Minister Julie Bishop on Wednesday, brings together more than 40 countries and agencies to discuss the issue of people smuggling, trafficking and other related transnational crime.

There are currently more than 13,000 refugees and asylum-seekers registered with the UNHCR in the archipelago and detention centres in Indonesia at over-capacity.

But compared with the situation in Europe where almost five million Syrian refugees are on the move, UNHCR assistant high commissioner for protection Volker Turk said Southeast Asia was “relatively calm”.

“So we hope for a very strong message of solidarity coming out of the Bali Process towards other parts of the world.”

He said Southeast Asia should no longer view resettlement as the only solution, but also look at options such as local stay arrangements on a temporary basis, which would allow people access to the local labour market.