Asylum-seeker registrations in Indonesia fall sharply: UN
Residents help a group of asylum-seeker survivors on the beach after being rescued by locals in the coastal village of Cianjur, located in Indonesia's western Java island on September 27, 2013
"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 hardline 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 are from Iran and Afghanistan.
However the policies have strained ties with Jakarta, which has warned they may breach Indonesian sovereignty.
Canberra apologised to Jakarta after its vessels inadvertently made incursions into Indonesian waters during Operation Sovereign Borders.
The Australian defence ministry said Thursday that a naval captain had been relieved of his command after his vessel was involved in one of the incursions.
Jordao said that since late December, around the time Australia started implementing its hardline 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 UN refugee agency has previously been critical of Australia's boat turn-back policy, warning it could be in breach of international law.
Jordao's comments came ahead of a workshop on people-smuggling in Jakarta next week, involving senior officials from several countries.
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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