Corruption Hinders Efforts To Combat People-Smuggling

Corruption hinders efforts to combat people-smuggling

Sydney Morning Herald
December 10, 2009

JAKARTA: Hundreds of asylum seekers have escaped Indonesian immigration detention centres and boarded boats to Australia this year amid widespread bribe-taking by guards and the brutal treatment of those who have been recaptured.

The rampant corruption is undermining efforts to curb human trafficking, even as Indonesia prepares to introduce long-awaited laws that will mean people-smugglers will spend up to 10 years in prison.

A breakout out from the detention centre in Makassar, South Sulawesi, two weeks ago is the latest in a list of escape plans hatched by asylum seekers and aided by corrupt Indonesian officials.

At a briefing in Jakarta yesterday, the Australian Federal Police Commissioner, Tony Negus, said the issue was a concern. ''There are people who have been detained and they have ended up on boats to Australia a short time later,'' Mr Negus said. ''It's frustrating for the local police because they actually collect these people, put them into processing and all of sudden find them again having to be either rounded up or on a boat to Australia.''

The Herald understands as many as one in five of the almost 2300 asylum seekers who arrived in Australia over the past year escaped Indonesian detention and used people smugglers.

A detainee at the Makassar centre, ''Muhammed'' – not his real name – spoke of regular breakouts, including one last month. ''The No. 1 man here said he could fix our problem if we gave him $US4000 [$4390].

''We said we only had $US2500. He refused but his No. 2 said later that this was OK. He took the money and said you are free to escape.''

Sixteen people fled the centre. Ten were later rounded up.

''Three of them, the bachelors, were punched in the eye sockets and kicked very hard in their bodies,'' Muhammad said.

The long wait to be resettled in Indonesia – up to nine years – meant refugees were prepared to do anything to leave detention.

The Indonesian Justice Rights Minister, Patrialis Akbar, told Australian officials that Indonesia hoped to pass laws outlawing people smuggling next year. They would allow for prison terms of five to 10 years.

The policy was announced 12 months ago but passing the laws has remained on the backburner for parliament.

A lack of people-smuggling laws has meant that people traffickers, who are charged with minor immigration offences, are handed sentences of 18 months at the most.

Australian and Indonesian police have stepped up operations, using 12 dedicated ''strike teams'', but Mr Negus said there was no sign the flow of immigrants was slowing.

''We are very concerned that eventually we will see a tragedy on a massive scale, where a boat does sink and nobody will come to the rescue,'' he said.