Warning on wave of boat people
Tom Allard in Kuala Lumpur and Yuko Narushima
The Sydney Morning Herald
June 30, 2009
INDONESIAN authorities are bracing for a huge influx of boat people, anticipating as many as 10,000 asylum-seekers are waiting in Malaysia to transit through the archipelago and on to Australia.
This estimate was backed by a Malaysian group that deals with unauthorised immigrants. An Australian Government source warned of the potential for a similar influx to the thousands who began arriving in Australia from the late 1990s.
About 1500 asylum-seekers have arrived in Indonesia this year and registered for refugee status, almost all travelling by boat from Malaysia. Another 1500 are believed to have arrived and have not registered.
Indonesian police intelligence suggests between 7000 and 10,000 more people are waiting in Malaysia to make the journey once their passage is organised by people-smugglers.
“It could be 10,000,” said senior commissioner Eko Danianto, head of the people smuggling unit at the Indonesian National Police.
“They comprise a mix of nationalities, not only Afghans. There are also Sri Lankan, Myanamerese (Burmese), Iraqis.”
However an Australian academic, Dr Roslyn Richardson, of Charles Sturt University, has said asylum seekers know little about Australia before their arrival here.
Networks of people-smugglers service the 1 million Indonesian illegal workers who regularly travel to Malaysia by boat. The same networks also help arrange passage to Australia via Indonesia.
On Saturday, Malaysian authorities arrested 36 Afghans and six Pakistanis being smuggled to Australia via Indonesia. On Sunday, a boat carrying 194 asylum-seekers, mostly Sri Lankans, was intercepted near Christmas Island. Immigration sources said it was believed to have come from Malaysia. It was the biggest boatload of asylum-seekers to arrive in eight years.
“When they start getting big numbers through on a boat, they [people smugglers] get credibility and they get money. It becomes a virtuous cycle for them,” said one Australian immigration enforcement official.
Australia and Indonesia have improved co-operation on people-smugglers and have disrupted more boats than the 16 that have reached Australia this year. With Australian financial and technical support, Indonesia will announce tomorrow up to 12 police “strike teams” dedicated to combat human trafficking.
But a new wave of asylum-seekers from Malaysia will test that capability, which will take months to get running.
Aegile Fernandez, the co-ordinator of the Malaysian immigration support group Tenaganita, agreed with the assessment that up to 10,000 asylum-seekers were waiting in Malaysia. “There would be 10,000,” she said. “I would put the blame on these agencies that have been promising Australia as the destination.”
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has 49,000 registered refugees and asylum-seekers in Malaysia and estimated there are 45,000 unregistered illegal immigrants.
The Australian Government declined to comment, except to note the number of asylum-seekers was rising worldwide. However, one source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: “It could be 10,000. It could be 5000 or 20,000. We just don't know.”
Dr Richardson said strong deterrent messages from Australia did not cut through.
“People smugglers do not pass on detailed policy information,” she said yesterday. The asylum seekers knew little of Australia, let alone its immigration policies.
In her study, the reasons 27 refugees gave for coming to Australia centred on its comparative cheapness and accessibility.
The research contradicts Federal Opposition claims that policy changes last year led to a surge in boats.
A report out today by the Migration Institute of Australia found migration agents were perceived to be poorly trained and shonky by parliamentarians, refugee advocates, official and the courts.
Source: The Sydney Morning Herald