The Language of People Smuggling II
An historical decision was made in Queensland today in regard to one of the cases that is mentioned below. The Supreme Court judge threw the case out of court due to what he believed to be a lack of evidence to support the Crown’s case. It’s a small light at the end of a long tunnel after some very tiring days trekking across Indonesia gathering evidence to help repatriate some of the hundreds of poor Indonesian fisherman and unwitting laborers (including minors, some of whom tell stories of rape in Australian detention) that are sitting in maximum security Australian prisons, facing 5 years mandatory incarceration (eligible for parole after 3 years). Most of these Indonesians have fallen victim to agents working for smuggling rings that target the poorest villages in Indonesia, making them a ‘once in a lifetime offer’ to do a ‘fishing’ job. A ‘fishing job’ that unbeknownst to them was planned to go awry from the get-go. The average Indonesian fisherman / rice-farmer ends up sitting in Australian prisons for over 18 months and will have wasted millions of Australian’s tax-dollars before they even get to take their case to trial.
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This post is going to take you on a journey that not many people have had the chance to take. From my experience spending time with people smugglers in prison, the courts and tracking their families down back in Indonesia, you will have a chance to take a glimpse into the mind of a people smuggler, understand the smuggling business model and smuggling routes, get an insight into the money and business generated from people smuggling and learn how to speak their language.
In 2010 in the midst of the political turmoil that was paralyzing Bangkok, I made the reluctant call to move my family to Australia. It was a tough call. I had my TV show and other work in the media in Thailand, I was on the board of the Foreign Correspondents Club, my consulting and training business was going well across the region and almost everything aside from politics looked like it was on the up and up. On the down side, my two kids then aged 5 and 6 didn’t speak a word of English and I was spending long stretches of time away from them … and ‘Bangkok Life’ was beginning to become just a little ‘too’ crazy – now that’s saying something!
In the end, we decided that Australia was the best solution. We sold our house, furniture and the kids parted with their nanny, maid and beloved Shitzu named Kung-Fu. We moved to Australia and I unknowingly began my journey into the murky world of People Smuggling and the Escheresque labyrinth that they call the Australian Legal System.
Everybody Needs an Interpreter
Life in Australia was a big reverse cultural shock for me, and I was getting desperate to get a taste of my ‘old’ life back. Over the past 16 years, I had worked as a simultaneous interpreter in Indonesian, Mandarin and Thai for the UN, government agencies, NGO’s and companies across Asia. 90% of the interpreting work I did was conference interpreting and had a particular ‘glamour’ factor. I figured that getting into the interpreting scene in Australia would be the best way to hit the ground running. What I soon found out was that the interpreting scene in Australia was very different to what I was used to… and very un-glamorous. Where I would normally be with delegations, diplomats, CEO’s and Miss Universe, in Australia I found myself interpreting for mothers that had just given birth, teaching them how to breast feed correctly, and describing where middle aged ladies’ rashes came from to doctors. I also interpreted for the courts, normally for drunk driving charges against foreign students run amok and even for one lady that had brought in illegal seed specimens into Australia from Thailand and was under threat of imprisonment. This was the world of ‘Community Interpreting’.
The Australian Labour Government’s Warm Welcome to People Smugglers
Just when I thought that breast feeding and festering rashes was becoming a little too much, interpreting started to become interesting. I had arrived in Australia just as the number of boat people arriving at Christmas island was beginning to soar.
Here is a table of the boats of asylum seekers arriving in Australia between 2002 and 2011 (taken from http://www.aph.gov.au/library/pubs/bn/sp/boatarrivals.htm)
|Year||Number of Boats||Number of people (includes crew)|
|2011 (to 30 June)||28||1675***|
Under the previous Howard government, asylum seeker boats dropped from 5516 people in 2001 to only 1 boat arrival in all of 2002 under what was called ‘The Pacific Solution‘. The Labour government came into power under Kevin Rudd in 2007. The number of asylum seekers jumped from 6 boats (60 people) in 2006 to 134 boats (6879 people) in 2010. There are many reasons put forward by all sides as to why the number of boat arrivals has risen so high. After getting to know all the players involved, I think I’m in a unique position to understand why the numbers are the way they are and what might be done to put the breaks on.
Coming Face to Face with People Smugglers
In June 2010, I was called into Brisbane Magistrates Court to interpret Indonesian for my first of what would be many people smuggling cases. Over the following months, I worked with the courts, Legal Aid / lawyers from assorted law firms, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), the Australian Federal Police (AFP), Corrective Services Queensland, SERCO (Private organization that runs detention centres), GEO Group (Private organization that runs the Arthur Gorrie Correctional Facility in Brisbane), other government agencies and media / news organizations.
The ‘Sandiwara’ of the Australian Legal System
Definition of ‘Sandiwara’: play, drama, theatrical troupe, pretend, play-act
Sitting with Indonesian boat crew prisoners day in day out in court and in prison has some lighter moments. They often manage to find humour in what is going on around them and many of them have described the whole process that they’re going through as a ‘Sandiwara’. Many of them can’t believe that this whole performance has been put on in their honour. To truly appreciate why they feel this way, you have to for a moment at least, put yourself in their shoes.
The Anatomy of a People Smuggler’s Journey
- Poor villager living below poverty line as a farmer or fisherman making around USD$1.00 – $1.50 per day (when there’s work) to support an extended family, often living in squalor with communal toilets, open sewers, no running water, no clean water and sick children to take care of;
- An ‘agent’ either introduces themselves to the men in the village, or to a respected person in the village and tells them that they work with foreigners who of course have money and is looking for people to help out on a fishing and / or tour boat crew (often to ‘Pulau Pasir’ which is the Indonesian name for ‘Ashmore Island’. Most Indonesians are unaware that Pulau Pasir is actually Australian territory);
- The ‘respected’ people or the agent, recruit men in the village. Villages have a very structured hierarchy and to reject an offer made to you by an elder would be an insult and for most would be unthinkable. The average villager is offered between 3 million and 10 million Indonesian Rupiah (between USD$300-$1000) for what is anticipated to be a 5-7 day job taking the foreigners around.
- The boat is often waiting fully stocked with fuel, noodles and water while the offer is being made and in many cases, the villagers have a window of only a few hours between agreeing to the deal and having to set sail.
- A portion of the money is paid to them upon departure which is often left with a family friend to take to the family, or they will drop off the money themselves before the journey. In many cases, they don’t have a chance to say goodbye to their wives and children.
- In many cases, the full amount of money is not paid to the family as the full amount was dependent on them making a round trip. This was never to be the case, as the ultimate goal for the organizers of the smuggling rings is to intentionally have Australian Customs or the Australian Navy intercept the boat in the contiguous zone (zone where both Indonesia and Australia have dual authority), or in Australian waters, so that the asylum seekers will be taken into custody and the Australian government will be forced to process their refugee asylum applications due to Australia’s international obligations.
- The boat will often leave from South / South East Sulawesi (Muna), Surabaya (East Java), Tanjung Pinang (Sumatera) and make their way to Kupang (West Timor) and / or Roti just near Kupang. In many cases, their ‘minders’ jump ship at these last ports and I have worked on a few cases where the ‘minder’ has literally jumped ship in the middle of the ocean just after leaving Roti and telling the Indonesian cook / mechanic to take the rudder and just keep driving the boat straight for another 7 hours or so. In this particular case, the Burmese / Rohingyan crew were said to have threatened the man left holding the rudder saying they had paid good money for the journey and they intended to reach their destination (which in many cases was made aware to the crew members only after the journey had commenced). The routes taken by the smugglers vary. Afghanis have often been living in Pakistan for many years. They organize the trip with an agent in Pakistan and then take a route either back through Afghanistan, or fly to Dubai, then onto Thailand or Malaysia. If flying into Thailand, they make their way to Malaysia by car or boat. In Malaysia their passports / ID are collected and they lay low in a safe house waiting for the connection to Indonesia. They might go to one of many places in Indonesia. Often by boat, then a long bus / van ride. They usually end up at another holding / safe house for several days until they get word in the middle of the night that the boat has arrived. They then wade out into the water, take small boats in the darkness out to the boat that will take them on to Australia. For many of the Indonesian crew, they start to smell that something is fishy when they realise that their ‘minders’ have anchored the boat offshore and don’t go into the port that they were told was their destination. By this time, they have already received a portion of their money for the job. Between having received the money already and through the cultural trait of not questioning orders from people higher up the food chain, they are compelled to go along with the show.
- The boats often have severe leaks and often need one crew member dedicated to pumping the water out of the bilge. Bad weather makes this even worse. While these boats are seen as being in bad condition when compared to western standards, they are seen as being quite good vessels in the eyes of the crew – often in much better condition than the boats that they’re used to sailing or paddling on.
- After several days of traveling, the boats will see an airplane flying above them. This is a sign that Australian customs / navy will soon intercept them.
- Customs or the Australian navy sends a boat out to intercept the smuggler’s boat. They board the boat and transfer the passengers to the navy / customs vessel.
- The passengers and crew are then taken to a larger Navy ship that travels for a few days to Christmas Island.
- Passengers and crew are detained at Christmas Island. Asylum seekers, usually from Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Bangladesh, Burma (Rohingyans) are detained separately from the crew. The asylum seekers’ applications for asylum are made and processed. A high percentage of them are successful allowing them to live in Australia legally and receive benefits from the Australian government
- Boat crew (Indonesians) are transferred from Christmas Island to Darwin Detention Centre. They stay here for a while and receive new clothes and ‘welcome packages’. The smuggler’s boat is usually destroyed.
- Indonesian boat crew are then dispersed to different capital cities’ police ‘watch houses’ in capital cities across Australia. The watch-houses are very cold places – both physically and emotionally. It is here that they are officially charged by the Australian Federal Police. Once charged and their possessions are taken, they appear immediately in the Magistrates Court. The Magistrate reads the charge to them and remands them (without bail – as they have nowhere to stay and no legal right to stay) to a maximum security prison to await trial and / or sentencing if a guilty plea is made first.
- Indonesians are sent to maximum security prison. Two Indonesians were beaten within an inch of their lives by Australian prisoners in late 2010 at a maximum security prison in Brisbane, so for a time, the prison had to go on lockdown while Indonesians were walked through the prison. Upon entry at the prison, they go through a ‘welcome’ interview in the ‘tissues and tears’ room at the prison, then go through a psychological examination and a health examination. Many of the Indonesians have found out about health conditions like diabetes and TB during this time and are treated for it in prison.
- The prisoners are given a ‘welcome’ pack of bedding, clothes and cigarettes
- They make AUD$16 per week in prison that is used to by toothpaste, cigarettes etc.
- Because of the secure phone system used by the prison where all phone conversations have to be monitored and recorded – which they say is especially expensive for international calls, the Indonesians don’t have the luxury of speaking regularly with their families. It costs around AUD$23 for about a 5 minute conversation back home. This is out of the budget for nearly everyone, so most lose contact with their wives and children. According to Muslim law, many of the wives legally divorce their husbands after not having been supported for over one year. Many of the prisoner’s family members have become ill, moved overseas or died unbeknownst to the prisoners. There are no books or reading materials in Indonesian in prison.
- If the prisoners plead guilty, or are found guilty they will receive a minimum mandatory sentence of 5 years with opportunity for probation after 3 years under a charge like “Facilitating the bringing to Australia of 5 or more people with reckless disregard as to whether they have a legal right to be in Australia”.
- In Brisbane, once a guilty plea is made, or they are found guilty, they are moved to a different facility (usually Brisbane Corectional Centre) which is often a very different environment to Arthur Gorrie Correctional Centre. There is the opportunity to work and make a little more money at BCC, though I have spoken to some prisoners there who have gone from good spirits weeks before to suicidal.
- Their final detention centre is determined and they are sent to that centre for the duration of their detention.
- In the case that they do not plead guilty, there are many more court appearances as they move up the different courts until they finally reach the District Court where it goes to trial. If it goes to trial, a jury is chosen with all the players in ‘full costume’ (according to the Indonesians…. It’s quite a spectacle seeing everyone in robes, wigs and shouting out at each other).
- If they are found guilty, same process happens as if pleaded guilty. There might be a chance that because it was taken to trial and wasted more money and time, that a longer sentence is given.
Detaining Indonesian People Smugglers Does Have its $$UP-Side$$
When some of the people involved in the people smuggling cases have heard that I have started to do things to address the issue outside of just being an interpreter, I have received from more than one person (in jest of course) a comment along the lines of “Don’t do that, if you stop the boats coming, we’ll all be out of a job!”
Remember that these Indonesians are paid around $300-$1000 for the whole ordeal.
Each passenger from Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq or Burma will have paid on average $10,000 – $15,000 for the journey. This fee covers the bribes, costs of the ‘legal’ travel documents that they carry all the way to Malaysia where they are ‘collected’, the airfares and other travel costs from their place of origin, the fees paid to the agents and recruiters and lastly, the wages paid to the boat crew or ‘mules’ which are at the lowest rung of the ladder.
Now compare that to the costs that the Australian government pays for:
- Navy, customs intercepts and transfers
- Detaining them on Christmas Island
- Transfers to Darwin
- Transfers to Capital City Watch-houses (SERCO) across Australia
- Detention Centre keep – have guards, Correctional Services officers, nutritionalists, doctors etc
- Judges, Barristers, lawyers
- Other Legal fees
- Chartered flights – By Australian Law, no more than 2 detainees may fly on a commercial flight, so often planes are chartered to take detainees around. The detainees might be the defendants themselves, or may be the asylum seekers that are being flown in from all parts of Australia as witnesses to give evidence at hearings and / or trials
- Hotels to hold up the witnesses who are giving evidence. There was an issue several months ago where a group of Afghan asylum seekers wanted to protest and not give evidence after they were upset because the Crown refused to pay for 6 porno films that one Afghan gentleman had watched on the 4-5 star Hotel’s PAY-TV system the night before. I am uncertain who ended up paying the bill, but the Afghanis did end up testifying.
- Logistics Companies
- Specialist testimonies
- Other Miscellaneous costs
Is Mandatory Detention the Solution?
Refusing to Leech off of Others’ Misery
Traveling to the Ends of the Earth to Track People Smugglers’ Families Down
How to Locate People Smugglers Without an Address
This goes to show you the world view of these people. They are poor and just living everyday is full of risks that normal people in the west wouldn’t have to face in a lifetime. They understand that in Indonesia alone, there is such a disparity between the rich and the poor, if someone came and offered them a job with ‘foreigners’ that had money, most would jump at the chance. It’s all part of Rezeki – the income or benefit / sustenance one receives in one’s lifetime due to work, luck or other reason.