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Record numbers seek UN refugee assistance
Record numbers seek UN refugee assistance

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Indonesia is being overwhelmed by applications for refugee status with the number of asylum seekers registering for protection in Jakarta increasing more than tenfold in the last four years.

New arrivals entering Indonesia are being told they will have to wait 10 months for their initial interviews after a blowout in numbers. There are 4500 people registered with the UNHCR, another 1180 have been given refugee status and about 1000 are waiting for an appointment.

The numbers give the clearest indication yet of the full extent of the spiralling asylum seeker crisis. Most of the asylum seekers are believed to be in transit to Australia.

The UNHCR is strengthening its registration capacity in Indonesia to cope and is increasing the number of days a week it processes applications in an attempt to clear the backlog by the end of the year. Priority is being given to asylum seekers in detention, who currently wait eight months for their first interview with the organisation. Asylum seekers not in detention have to wait 10 months.

In West Java last month, almost 300 asylum seekers from Pakistan showed _The West Australian _their UNHCR appointment cards which listed their first interview dates scheduled for March next year.

In 2008, only 385 people registered for refugee status in Indonesia compared with 4052 last year.

Foreign Affairs Minister Bob Carr said the figures showed the current asylum seeker approach was inhumane and the Malaysian solution should be effected as soon as possible.

"Without the Malaysian arrangement, you get the Indonesian solution which the Indonesians don't want, which is forced on them (and) which is untidy and inhumane," he said.

It meant crowded ports, people smuggling activity, danger on the high seas and pressure placed on Australian personnel intercepting boats.