Smugglers Eye Asylum Policy

Smugglers eye asylum policy

The Age
October 8, 2008

AUSTRALIA'S new policy towards asylum seekers could increase opportunities for people smugglers, an Indonesian immigration official said yesterday as the Australian Government grapples with the arrival of two boatloads of illegal immigrants in the past week.

Indonesia and Australia co-operate closely in disrupting people smugglers and, while the Rudd Government has expressed confidence its more relaxed immigration policies will not lead to an influx, Australian officials privately say criminal networks are well aware of the changes and are seeking to exploit them.

Seventeen people were being transported to Christmas Island yesterday after a boat suspected of carrying asylum seekers docked next to a floating oil facility in Australian waters in the Timor Sea. Last week, a boat with 14 people was intercepted near Ashmore Reef by a Royal Australian Navy vessel. Both boats were crewed by Indonesians and left from West Timor, with the majority of their human cargo coming from war-torn Afghanistan.

There were also three Iranians on the first vessel apprehended.

Authorities also disrupted a people-smuggling operation in West Timor this year involving Afghan asylum seekers.

“This is the example of good co-operation between us in Indonesia and with Australian authorities too,” the spokesman for Indonesia's Directorate General Of immigration, Maroloan Barimbing, said.

Asked if Australia's new policy would lead to more people smuggling, Mr Barimbing acknowledged the risk. “It may give better opportunities [for people smugglers],” he said. “It depends on our co-operation in Indonesia and bilaterally. We must continue the current co-operation and, if necessary, increase it.”

Australian officials say people-smuggers are becoming more sophisticated, using the internet to monitor changes in policies and then using the information to tout for business from often desperate families and individuals.

Under the new policy, Australia no longer sends asylum seekers to other countries such as Nauru for processing and if asylum seekers are found to be genuine refugees, they will be accepted in Australia, rather than being sent to other nations.