Smuggling Season Opens With Arrest

Smuggling season opens with arrest

Tom Allard in Bali
Sydney Morning Herald
April 15, 2009

AN AFGHAN man who allegedly organised the passage of several boatloads of his fellow countrymen to Australia last year has been arrested by Indonesian authorities and will be extradited to Australia.

The arrest was announced by officials from both countries as they prepared to grapple a “massive” surge in people-smuggling this year.

The arrest of Amanullah Rezaie on Monday occurred on the eve of an international summit into people-smuggling in Bali that will seek greater levels of co-operation among more than 40 nations across the region to combat the escalating problem.

The summit – known as the Bali Process – will host ministerial talks today that will tackle among other subjects the Rohingya ethnic minority who are fleeing Burma by boat.

The Rohingyas gained worldwide attention when Thailand's military was accused of towing them out to sea in rickety vessels without engines, then leaving them to drift.

A spokesman for Indonesia's Immigration Department, Muchdor, told the Herald yesterday that Rezaie had been detained last year and was now being processed for extradition to Australia.

He could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted in Australia and is allegedly behind at least two successful boat trips from Indonesia to Australia in December last year, a source familiar with the case said.

Described as an alleged “broker” and “middle man” who has been deeply involved in people smuggling for a decade, Rezaie is regarded by Indonesian and Australian police as extremely knowledgeable about the organisations behind the trafficking of humans from such war-torn countries as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Somalia and Sri Lanka.

His pending extradition is only the second to be negotiated by Indonesia and Australia and reflects a new strategy to use Australia's far stiffer penalties as a deterrent and a tool to extract information about the syndicates from those arrested.

Three boatloads of asylum-seekers have arrived in Australia from Indonesia this month, marking the beginning of the nine-month people-smuggling season.

“There's a massive amount of people [who will attempt to enter Australia by boat] ahead of us,” said one source. “They are coming from right across the archipelago.”

The Foreign Minister, Stephen Smith, who will co-chair today's meeting with the Indonesian Foreign Minister, Hassan Wirajuda, said dire conditions in countries such as Afghanistan and Sri Lanka were encouraging people to pay people smugglers huge sums of money.

“We also know that the people smugglers are becoming much more adept, much more savvy using better, enhanced techniques,” he said.

Mr Smith said he would raise the subject of the treatment of the Rohingya, a Muslim minority from Burma's north, with the Burmese Government, which be represented at the summit.

Burma has given some indications that it may be prepared to repatriate some of the Rohingyas under a United Nations program, even though the junta that runs the country, also known as Myanmar, has been reluctant to accept the Rohingyas as citizens.

Brigadier-General Phone Swe, Burma's deputy minister of immigration and home affairs, was expected to brief today's session.

The Foreign Minister of Thailand, Kasit Piromya, will not attend the summit because of the political crisis at home.