October 11, 2012
An Indonesian maritime police officer, fifth from left, escorts Pakistani and Afghan asylum seekers aboard a plice boat in Banten on Tuesday. (AFP Photo)
Australia’s tough “Pacific Solution” appears to have done little to deter asylum seekers on their way to Australia, with more potential refugees intercepted by Indonesian authorities.
Police in East Java said they recently arrested 23 asylum seekers from Afghanistan and eight locals believed to be part of a people-smuggling syndicate trying to transport the potential refugees via boat.
Sul Anam, a 45-year-old Sidoarjo resident who police identified as one of the masterminds behind the people-smuggling attempt, told Suara Pembaruan that he and seven others picked up the asylum seekers in Jakarta using three cars and took them to hiding places in the East Java capital of Surabaya and nearby Gresik.
“We deliberately took them to city centers so that [the asylum seekers] would be mistaken for tourists,” he said at the East Java Police headquarters.
Anam said his team were trying to transport the asylum seekers to a beach in Pacitan, where a rented wooden boat was scheduled to take them to Australia, before police arrested them.
East Java Police special crimes unit chief Adj. Sr. Comr. Wiki Suwartini said the alleged syndicate had been named as criminal suspects and were now in police custody. The eight men face a maximum sentence of five years each for violating the people-smuggling section of the Immigration Law.
Wiki said the group was expecting more asylum seekers to arrive from Jakarta. The potential refugees, the police officer said, are still hiding somewhere in the capital and their numbers are unknown.
Separately, in Banten police arrested 97 asylum seekers after their boat leaked and stranded them near Peucang Island in the district of Pandeglang.
Banten water police patrol task force chief Adj. Sr. Comr. R.M. Tohir said 80 of the arrivals are from Pakistan and 17 are Afghans, with the majority having previously been arrested by immigration officials in Bogor, West Java, before escaping a local detention facility.
Tohir stated that police had also arrested three Indonesian boat crews, adding that they hailed from East Nusa Tenggara.
The three are now under police custody in Pandeglang while the asylum seekers were taken to a detention facility in the town of Cilegon, Banten.
The asylum seekers “had been stranded [in Peucang Island] for three days and three nights. After receiving information, we immediately got to the scene and evacuated the immigrants to the Indah Kiat port [in] Merak [in Banten],” Tohir said.
One asylum seeker, Arief Husein, said the boat leaked after being pounded by strong waves near the island.
“To save our lives, we swam to the beach. For two days we had to survive with no food. We [could] only drink. A few moments later police came to pick us up,” he said.
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard earlier defended Canberra’s plans to reopen shuttered camps on Papua New Guinea’s remote Manus Island and on Nauru, saying it was a “tough” policy that could save lives.
But the move has prompted criticism from rights advocates who have described it as a backward step.
“Yes, this is tough policy. And I understand for many people that it’s hard for them. … I’ve seen that written on the faces of some of my Labor colleagues,” Gillard told Sky News last month.
“With respect, the feelings of me or any Labor member are a second order issue … compared with saving lives at sea.”
Australia has struggled to cope with a record influx of undocumented arrivals this year, many originally from Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Iran and Iraq, who make their way to Australia via Southeast Asia.
Additional reporting from AFP