Aust focuses on lax Indonesian immigration law

7.30 Report
Reporter: Mark Bowling
Broadcast: 25/02/2002

KERRY O'BRIEN: On the Indonesian resort island of Bali, ministers and officials from 20 Asian and Pacific countries will be meeting later this week.

Australia, which is co-hosting the conference, hopes they'll come up with ways of stopping the flow of illegal immigrants through South-East Asia.

But it's Indonesia's own lax migration laws which Australia would most like to see changed.

After the 'Tampa' crisis, and the loss of hundreds of asylum seekers at sea, there's new evidence that Indonesian authorities are finally rounding up some of the 'big fish' of the people trafficking syndicates.

But as our Jakarta correspondent Mark Bowling reports, even the smugglers who are caught and deported may soon be back in business, and the end of the monsoon season will soon see the smuggling routes to Australia open again.

MARK BOWLING: A fortnight ago, amid much fanfare, Indonesian police paraded the man they claim heads one of the most powerful people-smuggling syndicates.

He's known as Abu Quassey.

His real name is Cetin Kaya Nugun, originally from Turkey.

Until his arrest late last year, he lived a life of luxury in Jakarta, cashing in on sending human cargo to Australia.

RICHARD DANZIGER, INTERNATIONAL ORGANISATION FOR MIGRATION: Certainly, the profits are probably approaching those of trafficking drugs.

If you figure that each person is paying between US$4,000 and US$8,000 per head, if, on one boat, you find 300 people, I mean, start adding up the figures.

The money to be made is enormous.

Abu Quassey is accused of organising the ill-fated voyage of a fishing boat on its way to Australia in October last year.

He worked closely with these two men, his accomplices, Iraqis Mytam Kamirada and Khaled Daud.

More than 350 people died at sea, after their leaky vessel was swamped by a wave and sank off the Java coast.

The 44 survivors, from Afghanistan and Iraq, must live with the memories of losing their families and friends.

Among the survivors are these Iraqi women.

They were willing to help our investigation by positively identifying Abu Quassey as the man who took their money and put them out to sea.

All of these women lost close family - some children, others husbands.

When the women were shown the video, they found it impossible to hide their emotions and their grief.

There was no mistaking Abu Quassey or his two accomplices.

The women blame the people smugglers for the deaths of their loved ones.

For Amal Hassan, the tragedy will never be over.

AMAL HASSAN, IRAQI REFUGEE: Believe me, I can't sleep in the night.

Every time, I feel so bad because I remember everything and I see everybody die in the ocean.

MARK BOWLING: Ironically, after the tragedy at sea, all of these women have been declared legitimate refugees by the UN and they will be allowed into Australia.

For Indonesian authorities, their own law is one of the obstacles in stopping the people smugglers.

It's proving a struggle to make charges against Abu Quassey stick.

Although Australia has called for his extradition to face tough people-trafficking charges, there's no binding treaty in place.

Instead, Indonesia's weak legal system means Abu Quassey will, most likely, only be charged with minor immigration infringements, including passport fraud.

He faces five to seven years in jail.

MUHAMMAD INDRA, DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE & HUMAN RIGHTS: We don't have special regulation or special punishments for the people like Abu Quassey, because it is. that's why our government is very concerned, to want to reform our immigration act.

MARK BOWLING: Thousands of people have been turned back in their efforts to reach Australia and many of them are now scattered right across the Indonesian archipelago.

On the island of Lombok, next door to Bali, the International Organisation for Migration provides food and cheap lodgings for about 400 Afghans and Iraqis.

These men sold everything they owned in Afghanistan to pay a smuggler to ship them to Australia.

They were caught off Ashmore Reef, Australian territory, held there for a week, and then sent back to Indonesia where they're weighing up their future.

RAMISAN ALI, AFGHAN ASYLUM SEEKER: 70 per cent, majority of people, cannot go back in Afghanistan, because, first, they tried to come here because they sold all of these properties there and now nothing left in Afghanistan for them.

RICHARD DANZIGER: You know, these are people who have lived for over 20 years in conflict.

I think they're tired.

A lot of people don't have much faith in the near future in Afghanistan.

So, there's still a divergence of opinions among the Afghans.

Among other nationalities, particularly the Iraqis, it's much more difficult for them to go back to their own country so they're. a lot of them are still here a little bit in limbo.

MARK BOWLING: For the 100 Iraqis on Lombok, waiting for the United Nations to process their refugee applications has only added to their frustration.

Some say they will seek out the people smugglers, even if it might mean death at sea.

IRAQI ASYLUM SEEKER: If they don't find a solution by the UNHCR, you know, there will be no other choice but for them to, just to look for another way, to be smuggled.

MARK BOWLING: The campaign to stop people smugglers is being taken to the villages like here, in remote South Sulawesi.

This is where the syndicates recruit their boat crews.

Australian Government workers are helping local fisheries officers spread the word about the consequences of teaming up with the people smugglers.

BRAD ARMSTRONG, AUSTRALIAN EMBASSY: We are saying to them, "If you go to Australia, you will get caught.

The penalties in Australia for people smuggling, start off at five years.

So be aware of that, if you are going to go.

Don't believe the stories that some of the people smugglers tell you, that you're only going to get a month, you're only going to get two months.

You will get caught and these are the penalties you are likely to get."

MARK BOWLING: Without boat crews, the smugglers could be forced out of business.

But it's unclear whether the fishermen will heed the warnings.

For now, these shores are quiet and it will remain that way for the next month or so until the monsoon season ends.

It's likely then that the people smugglers will start sending more boats out to sea.

The rewards for the smugglers remain great and, while Indonesian authorities are beginning to act, it's unlikely they'll be able to crack the syndicates.

At immigration headquarters in Jakarta, we've been invited to meet the latest big catch, another alleged people smuggler - a wealthy carpet seller from Pakistan.

His name is Sahzad Anwar.

SAHZAD ANWAR, ALLEGED PEOPLE SMUGGLER: I will ask you to - possibly tomorrow - no comment made now now, yeah.

I need my lawyer.

MARK BOWLING: If you wouldn't mind, we'd like to do it now.

SAHZAD ANWAR: I will again request to you, no comment made.

I don't want any comment made.

MARK BOWLING: There was no interview the next day.

In fact, Sahzad Anwar, this time with his lawyer, refused to talk or be seen on camera.

So far, Anwar has admitted nothing to the authorities.

Their only evidence comes from a group of angry Afghan boat people, telling a familiar story.

They claim they were swindled by Anwar, put out to sea in a leaky boat, after which they nearly drowned.

MARK BOWLING: Is that the man that took your money?


MARK BOWLING: How much money did he take?


MARK BOWLING: You paid it to him yourself?


MARK BOWLING: What did he promise you?

ASYLUM SEEKER: He promised me my ticket to Australia.

MARK BOWLING: Many of the deals and promises were also made in Anwar's carpet shop in Jakarta, which continues to operate, despite his arrest.

Indonesian authorities say it's likely Anwar will be deported soon, for holding a false passport.

But, with the right connections, one immigration expert says he could easily slip back into Indonesia and soon be back in business.

RICHARD DANZIGER: I do know that, as it is now, we have a lot of very angry customers.

Even those who want to go home say first they want to find the smugglers and get their money back.

I don't think they'll be able to do that.

[ editor's note: This article refers to Khaleed Daoed and Maysam (aka Miythem Kamil Radhia), referred to here as 'Khaled Daud and Mytam Kamirada']


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