The following piece was published 20 August 2013, SBS World News Australia Radio.
By Ildi Amon
The Labor government is hailing the outcome of a meeting in Indonesia on people smuggling, saying it made progress on a co-ordinated regional response to the problem.
The meeting in Jakarta was attended by about 12 countries, including the source countries of many people who have been using people smugglers to try to get to Australia, such as Afghanistan and Sri Lanka.
It was also attended by the United Nations refugee agency, the UNHCR, and the International Organisation for Migration.
Ildi Amon has the details.
Australia says a key achievement was a commitment to address the abuse of "visa on arrival schemes" which have made it easy for asylum seekers to gain entry to transit countries such as Indonesia.
Immigration Minister Tony Burke says it's important that countries have also agreed to the concept of forcible returns of failed asylum seekers, whenever voluntary returns are not possible.
And he says participants agreed with a suggestion from the Sri Lankan representative that there's a need to widely publicise domestic policies aimed at combating people smugglers.
"It is not enough for each country to simply in their own nation be communicating their policies. It's also important up and down the pipeline of people smuggling operations for the policies of different nations to be communicated, and to be communicated loudly."
Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa rejects suggestions that little in the way of outcomes would come from the meeting, which concluded after just three hours with a three-page declaration.
"I can assure you that it is a far better situation today thanks to the kind of commitment that the countries that have met today have made in identifying and following up areas where we can be working together - for example, the idea of table-top exercises on search and rescue operations - that I think is rather concrete."
The meeting took place as more drownings were reported as another asylum seeker boat sank on its way from Indonesia to Australia.
Immigation Minister Tony Burke says such tragedies must be averted.
"The great horror of what we've all seen in the distance, in the shores between Indonesia and the shores of Australia, is that people have sometimes asked the question: how many people have drowned? The truth is, nobody knows the answer to that question. Nobody knows how many people have lost their lives at sea."
Mr Burke says while wanting to stop asylum seekers getting on boats, it would be wrong to create an impression that the only option in the region was to get to the UNHCR offices in Indonesia and apply for asylum.
"Effectively then you would have Indonesia acting as a magnet for people around the world, and you would solve a problem in Australia, and potentially create a different problem one in Indonesia. So it's important when we're working through our humanitarian program and working out how many places that should come from different countries, that we do it in a consultative way with the different transit countries where the UNHCR offices are. There is a similar problem, for example, faced camps on the Thai-Myanmar border. There is a similar problem faced in many UNHCR camps throughout Africa, a similar problem faced in working with some of the challenges that are there in Malaysia."
The Jakarta meeting came on the same day that Indonesia stopped its "visa on arrival" scheme for people from Iran - a scheme which Australia had argued benefited people smugglers.
Asked if Iran had responded by boycotting the Jakarta meeting, the Indonesian Foreign Minister downplayed the significance of Iran declining an invitation to attend.
Dr Natalegawa says the meeting was part of a continuing process, and he's confident Iran will help to implement the commitments which participants made to combat people smuggling.
"What is important is not whether someone is sitting in the conference room or not. It's more the outcome and the actual implementation. Indonesia has had very good cooperation with many countries of origin, including with Iran, and I have confidence we will be able to put into effect some of these commitments."