Category Archives: People Smugglers

Australian officials paid people smugglers to turn back to Indonesia, says police chief

June 11, 2015 | smh

Asylum seekers from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Myanmar appeal to New Zealand.

Asylum seekers from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Myanmar appeal to New Zealand.

Australian officials paid thousands of dollars to the captain and crew of a boat carrying asylum seekers, who were then returned to Indonesia, according to passengers and an Indonesian police chief.

Sixty-five people from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Myanmar, who were seeking asylum in New Zealand, had their boat intercepted by Australian navy and Customs officials in late May, and were then returned to the island of Rote.

The Indonesian police chief on Rote, Hidayat, said the six crew members said they had been given $US5000 each by Australian officials. The crew were apprehended when they arrived at Rote and are being processed for people-smuggling offences.
Mr Hidayat said the captain, Yohanes, told him they had been given the money by an Australian customs officer called Agus, who spoke fluent Indonesian. The other crew members had corroborated Yohanes’ story.

“I saw the money, the $5000 was in $100 banknotes,” he said. The crew had $30,000 in total, which was wrapped in six black plastic bags, he said.

When asked on Tuesday whether Australian officials had recently paid the crew of a boat carrying asylum seekers to stay away from Australia, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton simply said, “No.”

He refused to answer follow-up questions, citing the government’s policy of not commenting on “on-water matters”.

A letter to the New Zealand government signed by all 65 asylum seekers on board says Australian officials paid the six crew members at least $A7000 each.

“Then they take away our better boat and give two small boats that had just a little dry foods like biscuits and chocolates, and they also give very little fuel, just 200 litres for four to five hour journey,” the letter says.

Nazmul Hassan, a Bangladeshi on board the boat, said he saw the skipper put money in his pocket.

He said the crew initially told Australian officials they couldn’t go back to Indonesia because they could be jailed for people smuggling.

However, after a meeting the captain reportedly said: “We have to go back. Australia want to pay for us.”

“After they finished the meeting, everyone looked happy and they agreed to the proposal,” Mr Hassan said from Inaboi, a hostel in Kupang, Indonesia, where the asylum seekers are being detained.

“We didn’t say anything because they didn’t give us time to talk.”

The asylum seekers swam ashore after their boat hit rocks near Landuti island in the West Rote district of Indonesia, 500 kilometres north-east of the Australian coast.

Mr Hidayat said it was the first time he had heard of Australian payments to people smugglers and that he was surprised the crew members had that amount of cash.

“Boat crews are usually very poor,” he said. “I even sent the money to their villages upon their request.”

Mr Hidayat said he had not confiscated the money. “What for? It is not crime-related,” he said.

“I still wonder who Agus is and what is his motivation to give money to boat crews. Maybe he wanted them to go out of Australian border so he gave them the money.”

An Immigration Department spokesman said: “The Australian government does not comment on or disclose operational details where this would prejudice the outcome of current or future operations.”

Former Immigration Department executive Peter Hughes, who now works at the Australian National University as an expert on refugee policies and international migration, said if the payment was true, the move would be unprecedented.

“I have never heard of that happening before,” Mr Hughes said.

In the letter to the New Zealand government, the asylum seekers said they had set off for New Zealand on May 5, after living in Indonesia for a few months.

“Then we hope you [New Zealand] can give asylum and you can also give a peaceful life for us,” the letter says.

It says the boat was intercepted and searched by Australian customs officers on May 17, who warned: “You don’t try to come in Australia and don’t try to use Australia water area also.”

The letter says the navy and Customs returned six days later and removed the captain for a secret six-hour interview.

It says the asylum seekers were then removed from their boat and kept in jail-like conditions on a navy ship for several days.

“Then they separate our six sailors and donated them by giving at least $A7200 per person. They never ask to us any opinions and they also never accept our petition,” the letter says.

On about May 31, they were then given two smaller boats and sent back to Indonesia.

Mr Hassan said Australian authorities had burnt their original boat because it had sufficient supplies for them to continue their journey to New Zealand.

Don Rothwell, a professor of international law at the Australian National University, said if money had been handed out, it could be interpreted as a form of people smuggling.

However, he questioned the motive of the officials to do it.

Professor Rothwell said it was unlikely to breach any laws under the Migration Act.

“The great significance is how this decision would be seen in regards of our regional neighbours,” he said. “If Australian officials were to pay crews to take those people to Indonesia, I suspect that Indonesia and some other regional neighbours would take a dim view of that conduct from Australia.

“I cannot recall any situation where Australian officials have paid crew.”



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Hazards of identity | Uncertainty and death stalk the Hazaras wherever they go

May 27. 2014

Herald Exclusive: Hazards of Identity

Herald Exclusive: Hazards of Identity

“Every morning, as I step out of my house to drop my children to school, the fear of being recognised haunts me,” says 32-year-old Fatima, a member of the Hazara community living in Karachi’s Hussain Hazara Goth. “If I hear footsteps approaching behind me, I think to myself, ‘Could this be my killer?’ I quickly step into a rickshaw but as it drives out of the alley, with the sound of any motorcycle passing by, I prepare myself to be shot from any direction,” says the round-faced brunette, her hazel eyes visibly filled with grief.

Most of the 13,000 Hazaras living in Karachi moved to the city to avoid persecution and the deadly attacks they were facing, both for their sectarian beliefs and ethnic identity, in Quetta and other parts of Balochistan. “I could not stay in Quetta any longer,” whispers Batool Ali, shuddering with fear, as she recalls the June 2012 bomb attack on her university bus. “I was sitting in the back of the bus, so I survived with injuries,” she pauses, wiping away her tears. “Every time I passed by that road, the entire incident replayed in my head; blood and bodies were everywhere; my friends were lying on the road, dead. It was too much to bear.” Traumatised, she stopped going to the university, and decided to enroll herself in Karachi instead.

She discovered that life in Karachi was not as easy as she had expected. Security remained elusive and there was no official or non-government support for Hazaras under death threats. Then there were logistical issues.

Karachi does not have many hostels to accommodate those who come here for studies and don’t have families here. Ali now lives with some distant relatives. But, as she says, at least she does not have to cross the same road everyday where she lost many of her friends. That, for her, is a huge emotional relief. ‘It is better than dying a ruthless death,’ is how many Hazaras justify their migration from Quetta to Karachi.

For many of them, however, it changes nothing. Even in Karachi, they live under constant fear. Many Hazaras living in Hussain Hazara Goth complain that their places of worship come under continuous attacks and their women are stalked and threatened when they are seen on the streets. “I hardly step out of my house, except when necessary. When I do, it is almost as if I am paralysed by fear,” says Fatima, born and raised in Karachi. Her fear is mirrored by the whole Hazara community, including the rickshaw driver who takes her around. “He is the sole bread earner of his family. What if he gets killed because of me?” she asks.

For more than 600,000 Hazaras across Pakistan, such fears are part of their daily routine. The uncertainty of making it back home alive each day, or questioning whether they will see their children, siblings, parents and relatives alive, has become the basic reality of their lives.

The first terrorist attack on the Hazaras took place in Quetta in the late 1990s but the deadliest so far have been two blasts in the first two months of 2013, which together led to the death of around 200 people, including women and children. According to Nazish Brohi, an independent researcher and human rights activist based in Karachi, “Hazaras are targeted in waves of religious extremism sweeping the country. They are killed because they are Shia.” She points out that ethnic identity could be an additional reason for Hazaras becoming targets of sectarian killers. “Because of their ethnicity, they are physically distinct,” she says. “But, it is important to see that Shias are being targeted across the country — in Karachi, in Hangu, in Gilgit, in Kohat and in Quetta.”

Many Hazara women living in Quetta and Karachi have an additional problem to take care of: They live by themselves, without their male relatives around. Men of their families – husbands, brothers and fathers – have left to seek refuge elsewhere in the world, mostly Australia.

Fatima lives with her two sisters and her brother’s wife. “We help each other run our households and raise our children, who are all under the age of 10.”

It is hard to live without any men in the house, says Fatima, but it was harder when they were around because of the constant anxiety and terror the women would go through each time the men stepped out of the house. “My sisters and I would take turns to call them, incessantly, just to be sure that they were alive,” she says, her voice lowering to a level barely audible. She pauses, just long enough to gather herself, “It became part of our routine — the fear, the insecurity. It was making us all miserable.”

Frustrated by this intolerable uncertainty, the men left Pakistan in search of safety and security. “At least, I know my husband and my brother are alive. I guess this is enough for now,” says Fatima. Given the travails of travel, men do not take women along with them as they embark on their arduous journey across borders and through seas. This leaves behind the women to not just run their households but also to take care of their ageing in-laws and parents. “We can’t just pack up everything and leave. It is not easy. Our parents, relatives and in-laws all depend on us,” she tells the Herald.

Other shores, other worries

“Around 100,000 Hazaras have migrated from Balochistan to either other parts of Pakistan or outside the country,” says Tahir Hussain Khan, the vice president of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP). “The most common destinations for migrating Hazaras are Australia, Indonesia and New Zealand,” he says. Most of them are now living in Australia. Indonesia, too, is housing about 20,000 Hazaras (living there mostly illegally), he adds.

Fatima’s brother Abdullah is one of the fortunate ones who made it to Australia and was granted political asylum. Her husband, however, is still struggling in Saudi Arabia, like numerous others from his community who wake up each morning with the hope of living a normal life again.

For almost all of them, the only means to escape from Pakistan are illegal. The journey starts in Karachi and, passing through Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, is expected to end in Australia. The last leg of the journey usually comprises a highly risky boat ride across open seas between Indonesia and Australia. The travellers, generally, have little else to cling to, other than the hope to make it to the Australian shore; a possibility becoming increasingly uncertain, recently. “At least 1,000 Hazaras have drowned or have gone missing while trying to exit Pakistan,” says Khan.

Habibullah Manavi, a 22-year-old student from Quetta, could have been one of those. After walking through jungles, being mugged in Indonesia and held in a detention centre there for months, he finally got on to a boat to Australia, along with 34 other Hazara asylum seekers. Within 24 hours after the boat started its journey towards Christmas Island – a small Australian territory about 240 miles off the Indonesian coast – it capsized in a storm. He drifted on the sea for three days. While many of his co-travellers died in front of him, Manavi was rescued by Indonesian fishermen who brought him back to Indonesia, where authorities put him in a detention centre. After going through this ordeal for close to two years, only recently did he manage to get a valid visa for Australia.

On a prayer and a wing

“I did not want to go abroad but I had to do,” Manavi tells the Herald, on the phone from Indonesia. “The situation in Quetta was deteriorating by the day. I could lose my life in a random killing. I did not want to die like that,” he says.

In early July 2012, he travelled from Pakistan to Malaysia on a valid visa and met a human smuggler there, who arranged for his journey to Indonesia by boat. “I stayed in Kuala Lumpur for two days and paid 2,000 US dollars to get to Indonesia. After many weeks, he ended up not in Jakarta but in an Indonesian prison. “I remained in lock-up for a month with many others like me. Each of us was made to pay bribes at different rates for our release.”

Once out of prison, Manavi again contacted the human smuggler who helped him reach the Indonesian district of Bogor, where he joined a small community of Hazaras all waiting to go to Australia. Like him, they all had landed there after bribing their way through the Indonesian prisons and paying heavy amounts of money to human smugglers along the way. After many a twist and turn, Manavi managed to secure a berth on the ill-fated boat to Christmas Island.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says there are around 8,262 registered asylum seekers including Hazaras. Since the country is not a signatory to the 1951 United Nations convention on refugees, it therefore, does not let anyone stay as a refugee on its territory. But the UNHCR and International Organisation for Migration (IOM) run small centres within Indonesia where applications are processed for refugee status and those who get that status are then resettled in other countries. Of the many thousand asylum seekers in Indonesia, only 2,078 have received the status of refugees from the UNHCR, with the cases of more than 750 sent to different countries for resettlement. Hazaras cannot legally find work in Indonesia and even if they are under UNHCR’s watch, they have to survive on a meagre monthly stipend. “I live in a community house in Yogyakarta under the supervision of UNHCR and IOM. There are 40 Hazaras here. We are not allowed to work but we can roam around the city,” Manavi tells the Herald.

Brain drain

According to the HRCP, Hazaras leaving Pakistan are not illiterate and poor— as is generally the case with economic migrants from other parts of the country. “Among them are businessmen, highly educated workers and senior government officials,” says Khan of HRCP.

Amjad Hussain, 40, a senior Hazara journalist, is one of them. Till 2010, he was based in Quetta, working as a reporter with a prominent private television news channel. Then, he started receiving death threats. While he was in Islamabad on a reporting assignment, his best friend was shot on April 16, 2010, right outside the main entrance of the bank where he was working, on Quetta’s Jinnah Road. He succumbed to his wounds before reaching the hospital. When a large number of people from the Hazara community gathered at the hospital to receive his body, a suicide bomber exploded himself at the entrance of the emergency ward, killing many more.

Hussain received a call the same night. “The person on the phone told me that I was his next target,” he says. His employer transferred him to Islamabad for his safety but he kept receiving warnings against reporting under his own name. The threats also made him write to the then Australian Prime Minister and the Australian immigration minister, asking them for a work visa. But his only option was a refugee status.

Knowing that life in Australia would not be easy as a refugee, Hussain, however, decided that it would definitely be “more promising than staying in Pakistan,” where he faced constant threats to his life. He now lives in Australia waiting to become a legal refugee, having left behind a long and successful career in journalism, as well as his wife and two children.

Most Hazaras choose Australia as their best bet, because they have community support there. As they generally are a close- knit society, they are offered all kinds of help from the community upon reaching there.

Even the few fortunate ones who, like Hussain, are able to make it to Australia on legal documents, may have to wait for over a year to have their applications for refugee status approved. Faced with ever-increasing numbers of asylum seekers and economic migrants trying to reach Australia, the government there has tightened its border control and made its immigration rules and regulations very stringent. For instance, anyone applying for asylum in Australia on the basis of a threat to his life, while in Pakistan, must provide evidence of the threat. Many Hazara families in Quetta and Karachi, indeed, meticulously put together all photographic evidence of any attacks against them, in case they need it to apply for asylum in Australia.

Australian authorities are also making a lot of effort to limit the number of asylum seekers, including clamping down on human traffickers as well as working closely with countries where most asylum seekers originate from. Australian officials, for instance, are collaborating with Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to ensure that those leaving Pakistani airports and other exit points for Australia have valid travel documents. For those trying to reach Australia by boat, rules and regulations have become even stricter. The Australian High Commission in Pakistan has put up huge bilingual billboards – in Urdu and Hazargi – in Quetta to warn potential migrants that anyone seeking to illegally enter Australia by boat “will never make Australia [their] home”.

Journalist Hussain, says these precautions will deter few, if any, Hazaras from trying to leave Pakistan. They face a certain death if they stay in Quetta or Karachi but, if they try to make it to Australia; they have a slim chance of surviving. They will always be ready to take that chance, no matter how slim, he tells the Herald.

This report was originally published on Click on this link to read timeline of Hazara Killing in Pakistan in the past decade:

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Indonesia sentences Pakistani people smuggler to seven years

January 28, 2013

JAKARTA: An Indonesian court sentenced a Pakistani man to seven years in jail Tuesday for attempting to smuggle asylum seekers to Australia on a rickety boat that sank, killing about 90 people.

Javaid Mahmood, 55, was the second person found guilty by the East Jakarta District Court in connection with the overloaded fishing boat that capsized on its way to Christmas Island in June 2012. Another 110 people on the boat were rescued.

A panel of three judges concluded that Mahmood, also known as Billu, organised the voyage and conspired with an international syndicate that smuggled asylum seekers from Indonesia to Australia.

The judges said each asylum seeker paid the people smugglers up to $5,150 to get to Australia.

Last year, the court sentenced an Afghan man, Dawood Amiri, 20, to six years in prison and ordered him to pay $79,000. His interrogation led police to arrest Billu almost a year after the deadly voyage.

Prosecutors, who had requested a 10-year sentence, said the defendant knew that the boat was overloaded but did nothing to stop it from sailing. He was among the survivors and had organised three previous trips to Australia.

The judges also ordered him to pay $66,200 or face an additional six months in prison.

The number of asylum seekers from Iran, Afghanistan, Myanmar and elsewhere reaching Australia in Indonesian fishing boats has soared in recent years, and tougher steps taken by Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott to block them have become an irritant in relations with Indonesia.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa has criticised an Australia policy of turning back boats with asylum seekers as a violation of Indonesian sovereignty.

Tuesday’s verdict came days after Australia apologised for incidents in which its border patrol boats entered Indonesian waters without permission, which had prompted Indonesia to demand that Australia suspend such operations against boats carrying asylum seekers.

Indonesia has long been a transit point for people fleeing war-ravaged countries on their way to Australia.


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Police Arrest 30 Asylum-Seekers After Tip-Off

October 21, 2103

Rescue operations in West Java when a boat carrying refugees sank in July. The issue of asylum seekers has become a source of tension between Indonesia and Australia in recent months. (EPA Photo/Andra Subhan)

Rescue operations in West Java when a boat carrying refugees sank in July. The issue of asylum seekers has become a source of tension between Indonesia and Australia in recent months. (EPA Photo/Andra Subhan)


Gunung Kidul, Yogyakarta. Gunung Kidul district police arrested 30 people attempting to seek asylum in Australia after they failed to set sail from Parang Racuk beach in the regency on Saturday.

Gunung Kidul Police Chief Adj. Sr. Comr. Faried Zulkarnaen said 13 of the them had come from Pakistan, 11 from Somalia, five from Myanmar and one from Eritrea.

They intended to travel to Christmas Island.

“They left their countries because of political turmoil and violent conflicts. They paid a Jakarta-based broker to smuggle them from Indonesia to Australia, but they were deceived,” Faried said.

The three smugglers involved in the case fled before the police were able to nab them. But Sandika and Dani — two men who were alleged to be assistants to the smugglers — were arrested.

Based on the investigation, the group arrived in Jakarta and traveled by land from the city without clear knowledge of their destination.

They then stayed in a hotel near Krakal beach in Yogyakarta and were subsequently taken to Parang Racuk beach in a truck on Friday night.

The smuggler’s boat was said to be waiting near Parang Racuk beach and was scheduled to take them to Christmas Island, but a dispute between the smugglers and asylum-seekers on the boat caused the broker to immediately leave them stranded in Parang Racuk beach along with the brokers’ assistants.

They attempted to escape when members from the local search-and-rescue team found them, but the team contacted police who deployed officers to capture them.

Faried noted that officers were involved in the operation from midnight Friday until the early hours of Saturday.

He added that after being interrogated, the group was taken to the immigration office in Yogyakarta.

Police are also investigating Sandika and Dani in hopes of tracing their employers who fled the area on a fishing boat to the eastern part of Parang Racuk beach.

Of the tree men who had fled, two are identified as Medi and Hedi Yunus.

The issue of asylum-seekers has become a source of tension between Indonesia and Australia in recent months, with the number of boats carrying them increasing.

In the latest incident, at least 28 asylum-seekers — many of whom were from the Middle East — drowned just off the coast of Java.

In August, former Australian Minister Kevin Rudd signed a much-criticized deal with Papua New Guinea in which it agreed to send boats carrying asylum-seekers to detention centers in Papua New Guinea, just north of Australia.

Australia’s newly elected Prime Minister Tony Abbott turned much of the focus of his election campaign on stopping the number of asylum-seekers arriving by boats.

The government has stated that the policy has been effective in recent weeks.


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Indonesian police arrest alleged people-smuggling boss, Akram

September 06, 2013

Indonesian police have arrested a man who is understood to be a key people-smuggling boss, with suspected involvement in a fatal boat sinking.

A senior Indonesian police source has told ABC News that they have arrested a Sri Lankan man called Akram.

The man, who is also known as Rosen, was arrested in Bogor, south of Jakarta, and police suspect he organised a boat which sank off Cidaun on the south-west coast of Java in July.

There were more than 210 people on board, and 189 people survived.

Police have also completed their case against another people-smuggling boss called Jawed Muhmud, or Bilu, who is thought to be linked to four boats, including one which sank in June last year killing about 100 people.

Prosecutors will now take the case to court.


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Suspected foreign people smugglers arrested in Indonesia

August 19, 2013

Asylum seekers are helped from the water after being rescued off the coast of Cidaun.

Asylum seekers are helped from the water after being rescued off the coast of Cidaun.

The ABC has been told Indonesian police have arrested three foreigners over last month’s asylum seeker boat tragedy.

They are suspected of organising an asylum seeker boat that sank in rough seas last month off Cidaun on the south west coast of Java.

A contact in Indonesia’s people smuggling task force says they have arrested three men – an Iranian called Naseem, an Iraqi called Abu Yunus and a Sri Lankan called Sinniah Vamadevan.

There were about 211 people on board the vessel when it sunk, with 189 survivors found.

Authorities had already arrested five Indonesians who were allegedly involved in organising the boat and getting the passengers aboard.

The latest three suspects to be arrested are being questioned by police in west Java.


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Iranians decide to go home as policy bites

August 17, 2013

Kevin Rudd’s Papua New Guinea solution is working to stop Iranians, the previously largest single group of asylum seekers, from getting on boats to Australia.

As dozens of Iranian individuals or families either return to their home country or bunker down in Indonesia hoping for official resettlement through United Nations processes, one people smuggler has told customers he is trying to find passengers for ”one last boat”.

SMH SAT - Iranian refugees Binai Abdu Samad (husband), Samira Ghanavati (wife) and five year old twins Poja (boy) and Pona (girl) sit in their rented house in Cisarua, south of Jakarta, and talk about returning to Iran. They also know about a new proposal by people smugglers to fly people to Australia.Still waiting: Binai Abdu Samad, his wife Samira Ghanavati, and their children, in Indonesia.

Anecdotally, the policy has also affected the more desperate Afghan asylum seekers.


”I have a neighbour who is an Afghan smuggler, and people call him from Afghanistan and he tells them: ‘Don’t come [to Indonesia], just wait, one month, two months, because now the policy is against Iranian and Afghan people’,” says Hoshang, an asylum seeker in Cisarua, West Java.

The hardline policies across the Australian political landscape are the only topic of conversation in the hilltop Indonesian town where thousands have lived while waiting for a boat. They know an election is in the offing, but do not have a clear idea of the political details, and some are still waiting in hope that change of government means Australia will abandon its resolve to send people to Papua New Guinea.

According to the government, the ambivalence is reflected in the numbers: Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare said on Friday only 300 had arrived by boat in the past week, down from 1000 after the policy was announced.

But Denis Nihill, the Indonesian country head of the International Organisation for Migration, said he had ”not seen any increase at all in applications of people returning to their home countries”. The usual figure was 40 to 60 a month, which remained steady, he said.

Iranian asylum seeker Binai Abdu Samad, who will soon take his family and leave, said: ”With Iranians, the first pressure and people go home. I think going back to Iran is the best way.”

Hoshang has wasted $US20,000 trying to get his family to Australia, but has almost decided to return. He has already sent back his wife and two children, aged five and nine. ”They called me from the airport and they are safe,” he said.

But he left Iran after fighting with policemen and being jailed, and still fears what might happen if he returns. So he is waiting a little longer to make sure Australia will not alter course.

People smugglers are making it harder, pressuring people to continue by boat and failing to return their money. Hoshang said he was waiting for a refund. ”He tells me ‘Next week, next week,’ and I am still waiting.”

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