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Number of asylum-seeker registrations in Indonesia falls sharply: UN

JAKARTA--The number of asylum-seekers registering in Indonesia has fallen from around 100 a day to 100 a week in recent months, the U.N. said Thursday, as Australia implemented hard-line policies aimed at deterring boatpeople.

“There is a sharp decrease in the number of people seeking registration with the UNHCR (the United Nations refugee agency),” said Manuel Jordao, the agency's country representative in Indonesia.

However he cautioned it was too early to say whether the fall in numbers was directly linked to Australia's military-led operation that involves turning boats back to Indonesia when it is safe to do so.

Nevertheless his comments add to recent evidence that Canberra's hard-line policies are putting off would-be refugees from making the perilous sea crossing from Indonesia to Australia.

Canberra has said that there have been no boat arrivals since December. The asylum-seekers come from numerous countries but the bulk of them are from Iran and Afghanistan.

However the policies have strained ties with Jakarta, which has warned they may breach Indonesian sovereignty.

Canberra apologized to Jakarta after its vessels inadvertently made incursions into Indonesian waters during Operation Sovereign Borders.

Jordao said that since late December, around the time Australia started implementing its hard-line policies, to the end of March, the number of asylum-seeker registrations had fallen sharply.

However he cautioned that “you have to wait a few more months before you can answer more clearly” whether the fall was due to Australia's policies.

The U.N. refugee agency has previously been critical of Australia's boat turn-back policy.

Jordao's comments came ahead of a workshop on people-smuggling in Jakarta next week.

Tensions over asylum-seekers between Jakarta and Canberra come at a time of already strained relations caused by allegations that Australian spies attempted to tap the phone of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

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