The case of Mr Hadi Ahmadi
He's called a "people smuggler", but is he?
In a Perth jail sits a man, who stands accused of 'smuggling' 900 people to Australia during 2000 and 2001. He was extradited by Indonesia in 2009.
After a long wait the Australian government is taking him to the court in May 2010 to try the charges.
IMAGE: thanks to Peter Nicholson cartoons
Mr Hadi Ahmadi assisted in bringing four boats to Australia. His passengers were not "illegal immigrants" but asylum seekers. There is abundant proof of this: of the 900 passengers, no less than 866 were declared genuine refugees once their claims were processed under the hardline methods of the Howard government. That's a success rate of 97%.
This outcome gives one to think. It is in accordance with international law and the United Nations Refugee Convention for refugees to take action and attempt to reach Australia as a Convention country. Neither should the element of "breaching the border" be anything that is not in accordance with the Refugee Convention: Australia has promised not to punish refugees or discriminate against them for "arriving illegally" - under Article 31 of the Convention - regrettably though, Australia remains in blatant, ghastly and nasty ways almost completely in breach of the rules laid down in Article 31.
Perhaps it is true that, contrary to what happens on the European smuggling routes and strategies, Australian "smugglers" cannot and should not be called "smugglers", because they simply "bring refugees home".
Map: the journey of maritime refugees to Australia; recently
used departure points and harbours in Indonesia prior to April 2009
Click the map for larger version
What's on this page
This page brings together some media reports from the time that Mr Hamadi was extradited to Australia by Indonesian authorities up to the time where parties started preparation for the Australian court prosecution of Mr Hamadi.
Click the links below to jump down to the articles and items on this page with the same title.
11 March 2010: SBY in Canberra: smugglers will be crims - but the passengers? - Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's remarks were reported after the morning press conference by AAP, but no media outlets picked them up or read between the lines. What the Indonesian President gave away after closed-door talks in Canberra was more than we heard from Australia's Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.
2 March 2010: To Catch a People Smuggler, to Wade through Brine of Spin - Anyone who tries "to catch a people smuggler" needs to first peel off the many layers of spin and labelling. This page, primarily about 'Captain Bram', one of the Australian government's "notorious" people-smugglers, wonders why he has not been extradited to Australia.
8 November 2009: Kevin Rudd, stuck and becalmed in Merak - Australia's Prime Minister dreams of an Indonesian Solution that fails within a week. Rudd may have made 'that phone call' to President Bambang Yudhoyono, promising even more funding 'to stop the boats' before they would arrive in Australian waters, but he had not counted on local resistance and to fury from Australia and the rest of the world..
21 September 2009: Seeking asylum: Non-protection horrors in Indonesia - An expose of media debate and coverage of the rapidly detoriorating warehousing situation in Indonesia, sponsored by the Rudd government - where the International Organisation for Migration, UNHCR Jakarta and the Australian and Indonesian government all 'assist' to wreck the lives of thousands who seek protection and a better life in Australia.
24 August 2009: Reaching Australia: Iraqi asylum seekers in transit in SE Asia - This paper considers the relationship between asylum seekers and people smugglers, based primarily on interviews with Iraqis settled in Australia and Iraqis stranded in Indonesia since 2001. The study is responsive to recognition within forced migration research of the importance of giving voice to the main agents - refugees and asylum seekers - as part of the research process.
18 May 2009: Kevin Rudd's vile band of people smugglers - Kevin Rudd, with his media remarks, had escalated the issue of people smuggling, and remarkably, a crack appeared in their vileness. For the first time in Australian history, media opinion started to turn against his line, and reporters and opinion writers started to open the issue and, almost unaware of it, started to 'humanise' people smugglers. Thank you, Prime Minister!
:::UPDATED Febr 2008:::: 26 September 2007: Oskar Schindler and the people smuggler - Under Australia's interpretation of what constitutes a 'people smuggler', the young man who sold the donkey to Joseph and Mary would be prosecuted and imprisoned by law ... So would the priest who helped the Von Trapp family ... this page is about Ali Al Jenabi, one of those people smugglers.
Indonesia agrees to extradition
An alleged head of a people-smuggling syndicate will be extradited from Indonesia to Australia in a sign of deepening co-operation between the nations.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd revealed the impending extradition of dual Iranian-Iraqi citizen Hadi Ahmadi after meeting Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono yesterday ahead of the Bali Democracy Forum.
Following their talks, the third between the leaders in the past month, it was also announced that Australia will provide a $1.5 billion loan facility to help Indonesia through the current financial turmoil.
However, people smuggling dominated their meeting after a spike in recent months.
Since September, six boats carrying asylum seekers have headed for Australia while a further 15 boatloads have been intercepted before leaving Indonesia.
Hadi Ahmadi, who was arrested by Indonesian authorities in June, is allegedly responsible for sending 10 boats containing 900 illegal immigrants by sea to Australia between 1999 and 2001.
A senior Australian Government official said Ahmadi was expected to arrive in Australia by the end of the year.
It will be the first extradition of an alleged people smuggler from Indonesia to Australia.
The extradition agreement is a significant breakthrough as Indonesia does not have people-smuggling laws . It prosecutes those who traffic illegal immigrants for immigration violation and fraud, crimes that carry relatively minor penalties.
Under Australian law, people smugglers can face up to 20 years' jail.
Indonesia said yesterday it would take steps to introduce people-smuggling laws, with President Yudhoyono announcing that its parliament would ratify UN protocols against the trafficking of immigrants and other people.
The two countries will also increase co-operation to combat people smuggling. Australia is keen to improve Indonesia's immigration alert system so known perpetrators can be more readily identified and detained.
Australia's $1.5 billion stand-by loan to Indonesia will be part of a credit facility that will also see contributions from the World Bank, Japan, the European Union and the Asian Development Bank.
In other announcements, Mr Rudd said the two nations would hold talks in February to broaden their relationship. Australia will also spend $3 million helping Indonesia's new Institute for Peace and Democracy, which aims to foster democratic principles across Asia.
Yesterday's conference on democracy was attended by representatives of more than 30 countries, including many with authoritarian regimes.
President Yudhoyono said the "inclusive" forum was not about "preaching", but encouraging debate.
The Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah, gave the keynote address to the Forum. He talked of a "social compact" between governments and their people but did not mention democracy.
Still a destination to die for
Stephen Fitzpatrick and Mark Dodd
In an office on the third floor of Indonesia's immigration directorate-general in Jakarta, just across the road from the Australian embassy, several men pace back and forth in two high-security jail cells, like caged dogs.
The detainees are not criminals, though they claim they are being treated as such. As department clerks go about their business at rows of desks only metres away, they peer helplessly through strengthened iron bars, dreaming of Christmas Island.
It is a surreal scene, reminiscent of some Cold War espionage thriller.
The men's names are scrawled in blue felt-tip marker on an office whiteboard: according to the list there are six Afghans, eight Pakistanis and a handful of Africans in the cramped rooms.
Most of them were picked up a few weeks ago at a place called Karang Hantu - literally, Ghost Beach - on the West Java coast, preparing to sail for Australia.
One of the Afghans, Mohammad Yakob aka Rahun Shah, says he is a survivor of the Tampa debacle of 2001 and that after a time in detention on Nauru following that misadventure, he was sent back to Kabul.
He says he knows of more Nauru rejects in 13 detention centres across Indonesia, all of them having tried and failed a second time to make Australian shores.
Two of Yakob's group - Afghan man Sayed Abbas Azad and Pakistani Abdullah Khuda - are in cells at Jakarta police headquarters, under suspicion of being people-smugglers.
This being Yakob's second arrest in a matter of months, immigration officials believe he may also somehow be in cahoots with the organised networks ferrying people for thousands of dollars a go from Afghanistan to Australia, often via Malaysia before setting off on the hazardous sea journey from Indonesia.
Yakob insists all he's done wrong was escape several weeks ago from his previous detention centre, in west Jakarta, where "the behaviour with us was like criminals; we could not sleep all the night".
But the conditions in his bizarre city centre office jail are just as difficult, he says: "They don't even give us enough water to drink ... I am afraid of mental problems."
As the law stands, there is no significant legal barrier to people-smuggling in Indonesia: the stiffest penalties that can be thrown at offenders relate to visa overstays and document falsification.
"So far we've mostly been prosecuting the victims," admits Slamet Effendi Yusuf, head of a parliamentary committee considering new laws.
Those who have fled torture and death in their homelands, paying fortunes for the privilege of risking their lives in leaky boats, are treated the same as the Mr Bigs, officials concede: they are either prosecuted for immigration or other violations, or deported.
Indonesia is set to adopt UN protocols on people-smuggling, which should within weeks translate to legislation, a move welcomed by Kevin Rudd during his lightning trip to Bali this week.
Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono indicated Jakarta would be stiffening its approach, with the laws set to come under a broad category of transnational organised crime.
And there would be a strengthening of co-operative arrangements under the framework of the Lombok Treaty, the bilateral agreement signed two years ago by Alexander Downer and Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda.
"Prime Minister Rudd and I agreed to intensify our bilateral co-operation to deal with people-smuggling by stronger implementation of the Lombok Treaty ... so that we will have faster and more effective co-operation in dealing with transnational crimes," Yudhoyono said on Wednesday, at the Bali democracy forum he and Rudd co-chaired.
The imminent extradition of alleged people-smuggler Hadi Ahmadi to face charges in Australia, as well as the recent arrest in Surabaya of Pakistani kingpin Haji Saqhi after an operation that included support from the Australian Federal Police, is a concrete sign of this strengthened co-operation.
Indonesian police were able to track Saqhi for three months after he entered the country to organise at least two separate asylum-seeker voyages, known collectively to Australian investigators as SIEV24 (for Suspected Illegal Entry Vessel 24), one from Sumbawa island and the second from Buleleng, on Bali's north coast.
Rudd's new national security adviser, Duncan Lewis, has put breaking up the criminal rackets behind the asylum-seeker influx high on his agenda.
"It (people-smuggling) is driven almost by market forces," the former SAS chief says.
"There are drivers in the countries of source that send folks who are of a mind to move in very dangerous circumstances, putting themselves and their families at enormous risk. It's an issue we're going to have to continue to address square-on."
That will require delicate diplomatic footwork, and he'll rely heavily on his familiarity with Indonesian security officials, honed during a stint as defence attache in Jakarta.
Part of the asylum-seeker problem is linked to corrupt officials working in the consular section of the Indonesian embassy in Kabul. For $US1500 ($2280) in cash paid to a broker with friends on the inside, Indonesian visas can be bought, facilitating the first leg in a journey involving criminal gangs.
Other asylum-seekers simply surrender their passports to the smugglers before arriving illegally in Indonesia, leaving them without documents and vulnerable to arrest.
Many have told The Weekend Australian they travelled by sea from Malaysia to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, from where they were then smuggled in small groups further east to begin their risky boat trips south. Some are convinced that the smugglers to whom they paid thousands of dollars turned them in to Indonesian police rather than incur the expense of providing the promised boat.
There are also stories in the people-smuggling community, however, of a kind of honour among thieves: one, for instance, is known for locating a replacement boat if the first one he provides sinks. Unsurprisingly, this smuggler is thought to be getting a lot of repeat business.
The arrival in Australian waters of six asylum-seeker boats during the past two months, carrying 127 people, has been cited by the federal Opposition as evidence of a Rudd government failure on border protection.
But Foreign Minister Stephen Smith says security problems in war-ravaged countries such as Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, not a softer border protection regime, are responsible for boatpeople arrivals.
The Government has measures in place to deal with any increase in unauthorised arrivals and has stepped up air and sea patrols off the northwest coast, he says.
"The best response, in our experience, and this analysis is true for the last half-dozen years, is a very close working relationship and co-operation with our neighbours, particularly Indonesia," Smith says.
"There's no relationship, in our view, to the change in the temporary protection visa arrangements, which make life easier, more suitable and more appropriate for people who are given refugee status in Australia than under the previous government's regime."
Rudd insists there has not, in fact, been a spike in arrivals: "There is sometimes an erroneous view that people-smugglers simply disappeared; they did not," he said in Bali this week. "If you were to compare the numbers year on year in terms of arrivals in Australia, it shows that we have had a continuing problem in recent years."
The Prime Minister warns that the fight against people-smuggling networks is a "continuing challenge ... because there are still push factors operating in many countries around the world, and when ... people are being pushed by a range of circumstances into the hands of people-smugglers, this is a reality we are all going to have to confront".
But promises by Home Affairs Minister Bob Debus that the Rudd Government will be as tough as its predecessor on asylum-seekers have raised alarm among refugee advocates, human rights lawyers and even the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, which processes asylum claims in Indonesia.
Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young says the Government's new Australian Customs and Border Protection Service must show compassion to asylum-seekers arriving by boat. "What kind of service will this new agency be offering to those who need our assistance and protection? We cannot forget: it is not illegal to seek asylum. It is a right under international law," she says.
Brisbane-based migration lawyer Bruce Henry says he is concerned the Government has been slow to unwind former policies.
"They've told department officers to go easy (on asylum-seekers) but they've kept their policy vague and unclear," he says.
For Yakob, the Afghan detainee cooped up in Jakarta, returning to Kabul is not an option.
Last time, he says, 15 days after arriving there following his deportation from Nauru, "some armed persons attacked my home and we were beaten. I was injured. Since then I have been (on the run). My mother, sisters and young brothers are in Karachi, Pakistan, and two older brothers are in Iran. I know some who returned have been killed in Afghanistan.
"I don't know, can this new (Australian) Government help us, or do they know about us, or do they ask?
"I realise that if we go by boat there is 20per cent chance to reach Australian territory and 80 per cent to die. But what should we do?"
Inquiry needed into Federal Police involvement in people smuggling
Refugee groups are calling for the withdrawal of Australian agents from Indonesia policing operations and for a judicial inquiry into the Federal Police in immigration affairs in Indonesia.
"The revelations that Australian Federal Police offered a deal to alleged people smuggler Hadi Ahmadi raises serious questions about the integrity of Federal Police in people smuggling activities in Indonesia," said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition.
"It also raises questions whether such policies played any role in the fatal fire on the boat of Afghan asylum seekers. We need a clear answer from the Federal government that asylum seeker boats are not being turned around at sea or towed back to Indonesian waters by either the Australian or Indonesian government.
"The arrest of asylum seekers in Indonesia and the crackdown on people smugglers risks creating a similar situation to that which led to the sinking of the SIEV X. The Australian government should immediately withdraw from police operations in Indonesia. There is a contradiction between such activities and fulfilling Australia's obligations to provide protection to asylum seekers.
"Some asylum seekers attempting to get to Australia in 2001 and were turned back are still in Indonesia. Australia has an obligation to those people.
"It is well established that asylum seekers need to use "irregular means" ie people smugglers to travel to safety. More boats will be coming and asylum seekers should be welcome at Australian borders. We need an inquiry to re-establish confidence in the integrity of Australia's policies towards refugees and that boats will be able to travel safely to Australia," said Ian Rintoul.
Revelations following the SIEV X sinking, which cost the lives of 353 asylum seekers in 2001 indicated that under the Howard government, the Federal Police had been involved in a 'People Smuggling Disruption Program', interdicting boats, including the sinking of boats, attempting to leave Indonesia. Federal Police agents were also directly involved with people smuggling operations.
"In Opposition, the Labor Party promised an inquiry into the sinking of the SIEV X. The Senate voted for such an inquiry in 2003. This has quietly been abandoned since the Labor was elected to government. The time has come to allow proper scrutiny of present and former government policies.
"If President Obama can repudiate CIA activities in Guantanamo Bay and consider the prosecution of US officers involved in illegal activities, then the least that Kevin Rudd can do is to open an inquiry into the activities of the immigration department and the Federal Police.
For more information: contact Ian Rintoul 0417 275 713
People smuggler claims he's 'small fry'
An Indonesian man Australian Federal Police (AFP) want to have extradited to Australia for alleged people smuggling offences says he is "nothing" in the trade and the ringleaders pay bribes to avoid capture.
Since August 2008, when the federal government abolished temporary protection visas, 18 vessels carrying asylum seekers have been intercepted off Australia's coast.
According to Indonesian court documents, Hadi Ahmadi is accused of smuggling 17 individuals and five groups of an unspecified size to Australian shores from Indonesia between 1999 and 2001.
He has been detained without charge for 10 months in Jakarta and if extradited will be the first alleged people smuggler to be brought to Australia from Indonesia.
Speaking to SBS television's Dateline program, Ahmadi claims he is a small player in the people smuggling trade.
"I'm sure (Australian authorities have) the wrong information about me," he said.
"They make me big, but I am nothing."
Ahmadi says an AFP officer tried to recruit him as a spy by offering him freedom and a passport if he helped an investigation into the people smuggling industry.
"I (said): 'That's a dangerous thing, I don't want to do it,' to which the AFP officer replied: 'Okay. So you will be in a big hole. You can't go out'," Ahmadi said.
He says he is being targeted over "real smugglers", because he does not have the money to bribe Indonesian authorities to gain his release.
"Real smugglers working now ... nobody touch them. Many smugglers are free in Jakarta now. They are working. Nobody touch them. Even the police arrest them. They pay money and get free," he said.
The interview on SBS television's Dateline program airs at 8.30pm (AEST) on Sunday.
© 2009 AAP
AFP asked me to spy, says alleged people smuggler
An alleged people smuggler claims an Australian Federal Police officer tried to recruit him to spy on people smugglers in Indonesia in exchange for Australian citizenship, employment and money.
Hadi Ahmadi, who holds dual Iraqi and Iranian citizenship, says a Federal Police officer came to see him at an immigration detention centre in Jakarta in 2007 and "offered me some work - he asked me to do something".
Ahmadi, who faces extradition to Australia on 21 people-smuggling charges, says he told the Federal Police officer the work was too dangerous and he would not do it.
He says the officer supposedly replied: "OK, so you will be in a big hole. You can't go out."
The claims were televised last night on SBS's Dateline program.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono last month approved Ahmadi's extradition over his alleged involvement in the arrival of four boats in Australian waters in 2001, carrying more than 900 asylum seekers.
Mr Rudd said last month's agreement was a "very welcome development in the fight against people smuggling".
Only days earlier, he had described people smugglers as "absolute scum of the earth" who should "rot in hell".
Ahmadi has been held without charge in Indonesia for 10 months.
His lawyer, Joel Tannos, showed SBS a letter purportedly from a Federal Police officer asking for "co-operation" from Ahmadi in return for a job.
The letter purportedly read: "Hadi you have the chance to change your life - if you don't take it, I wish you luck in the future."
Mr Tannos told SBS reporter David O'Shea he did not know exactly what the AFP wanted from Ahmadi.
"But that was an offer offering citizenship, offering money and offering him a job," Mr Tannos said.
"In return, Hadi Ahmadi had to inform them everything about the activities of people smugglers, and Hadi Ahmadi rejected this," he said.
" 'No,' he said. 'I don't want to betray Indonesia.' "
Mr Tannos said that Ahmadi's case was a miscarriage of justice in the name of improving relations between Australia and Indonesia, and his client would fight the extradition.
The AFP declined to comment on Ahmadi's claims.
Alleged smuggler says corruption rife
Mark Dodd and Debbie Guest
An accused people-smuggling kingpin, whose extradition is being sought by Canberra, has accused Indonesian police of accepting bribes to turn a blind eye on smugglers' operations.
Hadi Ahmadi, an albino dual Iraqi-Iranian arrested 10 months ago in Indonesia, claims there are "many many smugglers" at work who are untouchable.
"They're sending ships to Australia, they are sending (them) every month," he told SBS's Dateline program.
"Nobody can touch them. They (smugglers) are free in Jakarta now. They are working, nobody touches them. Even if the police arrest them they pay money and are free."
If Ahmadi's extradition goes ahead, it will be the first to involve an Indonesian-based people-smuggler.
The SBS interview with Ahmadi, who remains in jail, was by phone and arranged by his Jakarta lawyer, Joel Tannos.
During the interview Ahmadi denies AFP charges that he was involved in people-smuggling attempts between 1999 and 2001.
He also accused the Australian Federal Police of trying to hire him as a secret informer, with a citizenship offer and cash.
Ahmadi has given his Indonesian lawyer a copy of a letter purporting to contain details of the offer made by an AFP agent whose name has been suppressed on legal grounds.
Ahmadi's letter is written on stationary from the Crystal Hotel in Kupang, a known transit point for people-smugglers and their AFP pursuers.
"The federal policeman came to me. He offered me some work. He asked me to do something and I said I can't do it," Ahmadi said.
"He gave me a last chance, he say - 'if you want to help us we can help you, we can work together'.
"But I say 'that's dangerous thing. I don't want to do it' and he say 'ok, you will be in a big hole you can't get out'."
Eleven boats carrying asylum-seekers have been intercepted in Australian waters so far this year and a total of 18 since the Rudd Government abolished temporary protection visas.
Yesterday some of the latest arrivals, 189 asylum-seekers who arrived on Christmas Island on Friday, were undergoing health checks at the local hospital as part of their processing by immigration officials.
The asylum-seekers were transported to the island by HMAS Tobruk, which intercepted four separate boatloads of people between Anzac Day and May 5.
Among the group are 18 children aged between five and 14 and 10 people who claim to be 17.
Rudd's Smugglers: Lost and foundering
It is hard to reconcile Kevin Rudd's description of people smugglers as "the scum of the earth" with the forlorn Indonesian fishermen who appeared before a Perth court earlier this month.
A total of 11 men were convicted and jailed. They were found guilty of transporting 147 asylum-seekers between December and March. The convictions brought to 14 the number of people smugglers jailed by Australian courts in the past four months.
Yesterday, another boat arrived, the 17th this year. It was carrying 73 people, bringing to about 900 the number of arrivals this year.
When authorities process these new arrivals, separating the passengers from the crew, the adults from the minors, there will doubtless be more charges, more convictions and more press releases. Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor has been quick to praise the sentences.
"People smuggling is a crime that exploits vulnerable people during times of desperation and demonstrates a callous disregard for the law," he says.
"Organisers, skippers and crews of people-smuggling ventures face long jail terms if caught and convicted."
But to others - the Indonesian government, for example - the sentences are pointless, largely misdirected and unlikely to make any dent in the problem.
According to Indonesia's ambassador to Australia, Primo Alui Joelianto, some of those convicted didn't know they were going to Australia.
"Our staff went to the detention centre in Christmas Island and in Perth and they found that some of the fishermen told them that they didn't know anything," Joelianto tells The Australian.
"They were just asked to bring persons to fish and to go somewhere. Then, in the middle of the sea, they were told that they had to go to Australia."
It's hard to believe they were as innocent as that. But scum of the earth?
Whatever their level of knowledge, the fact remains the men who sent them continue to operate untroubled by the efforts of Australian or Indonesian police. The real people smugglers are largely invisible.
Protected by Indonesia's inconsistent legal system, they operate with relative impunity across the sprawling archipelago, which is teeming with small fishing villages populated by people willing to strike out for Australia with a handful of asylum-seekers if the price is right.
The extradition to Australia in May of Iranian-Iraqi Hadi Ahmadi was a rare example of the authorities nabbing an alleged kingpin. Ahmadi is accused of facilitating the passage of more than 900 people travelling on four boats in 2001. But Ahmadi's extradition was the exception that proved the rule.
Indonesian authorities have limited options when it comes to pursuing the smugglers. People smuggling is not an offence under Indonesian law. As such, Indonesian police are forced to detain people for minor matters, usually visa violations. Police rarely get high up in the food chain.
Indonesia's weak legal regime is the reason the Australian government is working with Southeast Asian countries to amend their legal codes.
The Attorney-General's Department is working with Malaysia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and The Philippines to address the problem. The hope is that by fortifying countries across the region, people smugglers will be unable to exploit legal differences across the region, shifting their activities to the softest jurisdiction.
Exacerbating the problem is the fluid nature of the people-smuggling business. The smugglers are changing their tactics. Whereas in the past smugglers operated in plain sight, accommodating their passengers in downtown Jakarta and feeding them at Jalan Wahid Hashim McDonald's - conveniently located near the UN headquarters - these days they are more careful.
Alive to the risks of electronic eavesdropping, they are wary of mobile phones and the internet. Nor do they put their charges up in downtown boarding houses. Instead, they house them in remote locations while they wait to undertake the final leg of their voyage to Australia. That's if they leave from Indonesia at all.
Increasingly, the focus of illegal activity is moving to Malaysia. The largest boat to arrive this year - an ocean-going vessel carrying 193 Tamils - had been tracked by authorities at least as far as Penang.
Malaysia's entry requirements have Australian authorities worried. A secular Muslim state, Malaysia has loose entry requirements for visitors from other Muslim countries. As such it has always been a favoured destination for Middle Eastern asylum-seekers whose ultimate destination is Australia. But whereas in the past it was a transit point, authorities are concerned it has become a staging point for the journey to Australia.
Customs and border security have been given money to establish new posts in Malaysia and Sri Lanka, plus boost their presence in Indonesia.
The Australian Federal Police has also been showered with funds, setting up joint strike teams with the Indonesian National Police - reportedly 12 across Indonesia - in an effort to disrupt the smugglers.
Rudd and Foreign Minister Stephen Smith last week paid a joint visit to the Malaysian Prime Minister, Najib Razak in a bid to shore up co-operation from our prickliest Asian neighbour. The measures undertaken by Rudd amount to a multi-pronged diplomatic and law enforcement offensive aimed at stopping the boats before they leave Southeast Asia. But will they be effective?
Authorities stand a reasonable chance of stemming the tide of boatpeople borne to Australia via organised smuggling routes. The syndicate that recruits passengers in Pakistan or Afghanistan, flies them to Malaysia then puts them on a rickety boat to Australia, is prone to disruption by law enforcement, providing the rest of the region co-operates.
But the present wave of asylum-seekers comprises two categories of migrants. Middle Eastern refugees - the men, women and children arriving by boat from Indonesia and Malaysia - account for most of the unauthorised arrivals this year.
But there is growing concern Australia will be flooded with refugees fleeing war-ravaged Sri Lanka. Ever since government troops overran the last stronghold of the Tamil Tigers in May, Sri Lanka's ethnic Tamils have been holed up in refugee camps in the country's north.
About 300,000 people have been forcibly detained in the camps in conditions that gravely concern the UN. Suspected Tamil fighters are reportedly being removed by authorities to unknown fates.
Australian authorities worry that the 193 Tamils intercepted in late June could presage a boat-borne exodus of Tamils fleeing retribution. Australia's security services are alert to the potential security risks of ex-Tamil fighters passing themselves as refugees.
While a tough Australian policy response may stem the tide of refugees travelling via organised routes, there is nothing the Australian government can do to prevent a torrent of people whose passage has been forced by an acute humanitarian emergency.
The government knows this. It is why the Department of Immigration and Citizenship and other agencies have been active in Sri Lanka, working with local authorities to warn Sri Lankans of the risk involved in undertaking the hazardous journey.
Amid all this furious diplomatic activity, the Australian public has barely stirred. An issue that - on the telling of some - once turned elections now fails to register.
Privately, the government is concerned that will change, that the issue will reach a tipping point and that the number of refugees will hit a level the public finds unacceptable, perhaps provoking a Hansonite backlash.
Tellingly, a Newspoll conducted for The Australian in April found that only 36 per cent of voters believed a tougher regime would make any difference in cutting illegal arrivals, while 57 per cent believed it would do nothing to stop boat people.
The finding blunts a key line of opposition attack: that a softening of Australia's laws is behind the present influx of boat people. This is both ironic and unfortunate for the opposition which is, in part, right when it says the changes have encouraged asylum-seekers.
Everybody from the International Organisation for Migration, to the Indonesian ambassador to Australia, to the AFP to the boatpeople themselves, acknowledge policy changes have played some role.
Even the federal government has grudgingly conceded the changes have been a factor. Immigration Minister Chris Evans says people smugglers have used the changes as a marketing ploy, although he is emphatic that global instability abroad is the principal driver.
But whether or not the changes have been decisive on provoking the flow of boats, as opposed to influencing activity at the margins, is a more complicated question.
The government has certainly been effective in persuading the public that "push" factors are the main reason for the surge. Evans has pointed to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees report showing a 28 per cent increase in the number of refugee claims worldwide in 2008.
But in Australia the number of boat arrivals has gone from virtually zero prior to Labor's changes, to almost 1000 this calendar year. Clearly there is something else going on.
Whatever it is, the opposition has been singularly unsuccessful in gaining traction on the issue. Malcolm Turnbull got his party into an awful muddle when he raised the prospect of reintroducing three-year temporary protection visas for refugees as a deterrent.
Turnbull says the policy option should be high on the agenda, but stopped short of committing to reintroducing the controversial visas should the Coalition win the next election.
Turnbull knows the measure will never win the support of the left-Liberal rump of Petro Georgiou, Judi Moylan and Russell Broadbent. To push too hard would be to risk opening up a damaging schism within the party and turning a story about Labor's inability to stop the boats into yet another story about Turnbull's uncertain authority.
Again, there is irony there. One of the key arguments used by Evans and the refugee lobby to justify the abolition of TPVs was that they loaded up the boats with women and children because TPV holders had no family reunion rights.
What is that if not an implicit acknowledgement of the relationship between Australian policy and the behaviour of refugees?
What all parties agree on is the need to stop the boats. For one thing is clear: as long as the boats continue to sail, people will continue to die. The boats are rickety, the seas are treacherous and most of the Middle Eastern asylum-seekers can't swim.
The fate of the 80 or so Afghan asylum-seekers whose boat is believed to have gone down off the Indonesian island of Sumbawa last week emphasises the point. About 15 of those on board have been accounted for. A text message sent by one of the passengers to refugee advocate Ian Rintoul as the boat was foundering succinctly conveys both the perils and the terrors those who would risk the journey are subject to.
"I don't know da location," it reads. "My mb has no power now. I cnt contact u anymore. May God help us."
Alleged people smuggler protests charges
An Iranian-Iraqi man charged with heading up a major people smuggling ring has protested his innocence, saying he is a victim of politics.
Hadi Ahmadi, 33, appeared in Perth Magistrates Court on Thursday to face a total of 21 charges for allegedly helping bring asylum seekers into Australia.
He is the first alleged people smuggler to be extradited from Indonesia and if found guilty, faces a jail term of up to 20 years.
Speaking through a Farsi (Persian) interpreter, Ahmadi told the court he should never have been brought to Australia.
"I have never been disobedient to the law. I have been a law-abiding person," Ahmadi said.
"This is illegal (that) they have brought me here from Indonesia.
"I haven't done anything wrong in Australia. This is the first time I have been in Australia."
He was remanded in custody and is due to reappear on October 1.
His lawyer, Hylton Quail, was not present in court on Thursday but had previously indicated his client would plead not guilty to all charges.
Dressed in a green prison tracksuit and keeping his head bowed, Ahmadi told Magistrate Peter Malone he felt like a political pawn.
"In Indonesia they told me if you haven't done anything wrong in Australia, they don't have the right to send you to Australia to be prosecuted," he said.
"Unfortunately my case doesn't have anything to do with legal matters, it is a political case.
"(Indonesia) have broken the law to send me here."
Ahmadi told the court his only fault was not being willing to cooperate with Australian Federal Police (AFP) and that he had evidence to prove that.
"Unfortunately I haven't had any strong government behind me to support me,' he said.
"The only thing I would like to ask the court (is) I would like to have justice through the system."
Ahmadi's charges include four counts of trafficking groups of five people or more into Australia in 2001 and 17 of illegally assisting individuals into the country.
He was charged by the AFP when he arrived at Perth airport from Jakarta on May 26 following his extradition from Indonesia.
Ahmadi, an albino, who is also known as Abu Hassan, had been held in a Jakarta jail since June 2008.
© 2009 AAP
Accused people smuggler protests his innocence
ABC News Online
An alleged people smuggler has again protested his innocence during an appearance in the Perth Magistrates Court.
Duel Iraqi and Iranian citizen Hadi Ahmadi is facing 21 charges over the arrival of four boat loads of people in Australian waters in 2001.
Mr Ahmadi has been held in a Perth jail since he was extradited from Indonesia in May.
He has repeatedly maintained his innocence and claimed that his extradition to Australia was illegal.
During his court appearance today he said he was being made a scape goat.
Mr Ahmadi's case was adjourned until later this month.
Chris Evans: Labor's policies are not encouraging boat people
The recent increase in asylum seekers coming to Australia by boat is part of a global phenomenon as desperate people flee war and persecution to seek a better life in a safe country.
As Australia and other industrialised countries grapple with the complexity of the problem, there are those that wrongly claim it is the "pull" factors Australia's domestic immigration policies that are driving people to our shores.
The facts are that there has been a global spike in irregular people movement around the world. The UNHCR 2008 Global Trends Report released last month stated there were 42 million people forcibly displaced worldwide, driven from their homelands by insecurity, persecution and conflict.
In particular, the worsening situations in places such as Afghanistan and Sri Lanka have forced many thousands of people to flee those countries and seek refuge elsewhere around the world.
There was an 85 per cent increase in the number of Afghan asylum seekers claiming protection in industrialised countries worldwide in 2008 and so far this year, more than 14,000 Afghans have claimed asylum in Western Europe. This compares with the 752 Afghans who have arrived by boat in Australian waters this year.
In the case of Sri Lanka, violence in the long-running civil war escalated in 2008 and peaked earlier this year before the bloody conflict ended in May.
There are now some 250,000 Tamils from the north of Sri Lanka in camps for internally displaced people and there are significant numbers of people fleeing Sri Lanka to seek refuge in industrialised countries and Australia, as a secure and stable democracy, is one of the destinations.
In 2008, there was a 24 per cent increase in the number of Sri Lankan asylum seekers claiming protection in industrialised countries worldwide. While some 700 Sri Lankan asylum seekers have been intercepted on boats in Australian waters this year, more than 4000 headed to Europe, principally France and Switzerland, an increase of nearly 20 per cent on the same period last year.
The reality is that there have been boat arrivals to Australia in 25 of the past 33 years and we will continue to see boat arrivals in Australia while people continue to flee war and persecution.
From 1976 to 1981, under the Fraser government, there were 2059 boat arrivals sparked by the fall of South Vietnam in 1975.
From 1999 to 2001, under the Howard government, there were 12,176 boat arrivals, including 5516 arrivals in 2001 alone.
The Liberal Party didn't claim then that pull factors caused that movement and indeed pull factors were not to blame. They were mainly Afghans and Iraqis fleeing the brutal regimes of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein's Iraq.
The Taliban regime fell at the end of 2001, and in 2002 a large scale voluntary return program of Afghans began the single largest repatriation operation in the UNHCR's 59-year history. By 2004, more than 3.1 million people had returned home to Afghanistan.
Coalition forces invaded Iraq in 2003 and the Saddam Hussein regime ended. The fall of these two brutal regimes saw boat arrivals to Australia decline dramatically.
The number of Afghans claiming asylum in Australia dropped from 2161 in 2001 to 63 in 2003 while the number of Iraqis lodging an asylum claim dropped from 1784 in 2001 to 132 in 2003.
That picture was mirrored around the world. Between 2001 and 2003, Afghan asylum applications globally dropped from 52,927 to 14,216 and the number of Iraqi's claiming asylum around the world dropped from 52,413 to 27,352.
It wasn't Australian domestic policy causing this global reduction; it was a change in circumstances in Afghanistan and Iraq.
In 2008 and 2009, we have seen a resurgence of mainly Afghan and Sri Lankan asylum seekers fleeing their countries due to worsening circumstances.
The overwhelming majority of asylum seekers seek safety in Western Europe. Last year, 13,000 asylum seekers arrived by boat in Spain; 36,000 arrived in Italy; 2700 in Malta; 15,000 in Greece. And in Yemen, 50,000 people arrived by boat from Somalia.
To combat people smuggling to Australia, the Rudd Government has implemented a $654-million strategy to strengthen Australia's borders, which includes increased maritime and aerial patrols and surveillance, and a boost to the AFP's resources to investigate people smuggling syndicates.
Labor also maintained the key border protection policies of the previous Government a system of excision and the mandatory detention, and the offshore processing on Christmas Island of all irregular maritime arrivals.
We also firmly believe that regional engagement and co-operation with Indonesia and other South-East Asian neighbours is a vital component of a successful policy to combat people smuggling and have therefore increased our regional cooperation arrangements.
This co-operation has so far resulted in the prevention of more than 80 people smuggling ventures involving more than 1000 people. We have also seen the extradition from Indonesia of an alleged people smuggling organiser, Hadi Ahmadi, and the recent arrest in Indonesia of the alleged organiser of the venture carrying more than 200 Sri Lankans.
In Australia, the AFP has so far arrested and charged 51 Indonesian men with people smuggling offences. Of those so far, 14 have been found guilty and have been jailed, while others are still awaiting trial.
Capturing and prosecuting the organisers is a priority as is preventing people from embarking on dangerous journeys in leaky boats in the first place. But punishing people who seek our protection is not something that this Government will engage in and Australian's won't and didn't tolerate.
It is true that the Rudd Government has discarded some of the punitive and shameful policies of the Howard years. We make no apologies for that.
We don't want to have a system where children are behind razor wire in desert detention centres or where people languish in detention for years on end and in desperation sew up their lips, commit self-harm and suffer mental breakdowns. That is how the Howard government treated refugees and it is a sad blight on Australia's history.
It is morally right that we should treat people who seek our protection humanely, and it is right that we meet our international obligations under the UN Refugee Convention. People found to be owed protection will be allowed to apply for a protection visa. If they are found not to be owed Australia's protection, they will be removed.
A more humane system for detaining and assessing asylum seekers does not undermine border security nor is it the principle driver in people smuggling.
Senator Chris Evans is the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship and leader of the Government in the Senate.
Alleged people smuggler pleads innocence
The first man extradited to Australia to face charges of people smuggling has pleaded not guilty in a Perth court.
Dual Iraqi-Iranian citizen Hadi Ahmadi, 33, appeared in the Perth Magistrates Court via video-link from Casuarina prison on Thursday.
He is charged with 21 counts of people smuggling, relating to four boat arrivals of asylum seekers to Australia in 2001.
The charges include four counts of trafficking groups of five people or more into Australia in 2001 and 17 of illegally assisting individuals into the country.
A Farsi (Persian) interpreter appeared in court to assist Ahmadi, but his lawyer, Hylton Quail told Magistrate Edward De Vries his client had a "sufficient" understanding of English.
At previous court appearances, Ahmadi has protested his innocence and claimed he is being used as a political pawn.
But Ahmadi said little during his appearance on Thursday, telling Magistrate De Vries he preferred to "just keep quiet".
He was remanded in custody until his next appearance, in the West Australian District Court on February 5, when a trial date will be set.
Ahmadi was extradited from Indonesia in May after President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono granted final approval for his extradition.
Judge slams people-smuggling trial delay
The chief judge of the Western Australian District Court has lashed out over delays in bringing to trial the first man extradited to Australia on people-smuggling charges.
Dual Iraqi-Iranian citizen Hadi Ahmadi, 33, was extradited from Indonesia on May 26 to face four counts of human trafficking and 17 counts of illegally assisting individuals into Australia.
Ahmadi had been in Indonesian custody since June 29, 2008, after he was arrested at the request of the Australian government.
He appeared in the WA District Court on Friday after being formally indicted this week.
But a trial date could not be set because a formal application for commonwealth funding to investigate the case against him had not been processed.
Chief Judge Antoinette Kennedy, presiding over the case, said it was "appalling" that Ahmadi had already spent so much time in custody without a trial.
"I'm really concerned about keeping this man in custody," Judge Kennedy said in court, adding that if convicted Ahmadi would likely receive a five-year sentence.
"The fact this man has been in custody since June 2008 is unacceptable - completely unacceptable.
"Both sides have an obligation to bring this matter forward."
Judge Kennedy said it would be "a scandal" if Ahmadi spent more time in custody awaiting trial than he could reasonably expect to serve in jail if convicted.
"Or worse, if he was acquitted," the judge added.
"This is just appalling from both sides."
If given a five-year sentence, Ahmadi could be paroled after three years, according to his defence team.
Defence barrister Jonathan Davies said a trial brief could not be finalised because the federal Attorney-General's Department had still not processed a Legal Aid application on December 8 for funds to investigate the charges against his client.
Ahmadi remained silent during proceedings.
In previous court appearances, he has protested his innocence and claimed he was being used as a political pawn.
Judge Kennedy said it would be a "pyrrhic victory" for the Australian government if Ahmadi "spends five years in custody before he stands trial" even if he was convicted.
Ahmadi was remanded in custody to reappear on February 25.
He faces up to 20 years in jail if convicted of human trafficking charges.
Ahmadi trial to hear 70 witnesses
Up to 70 potential witnesses could be called to give evidence in a five-week trial of alleged people smuggler Hadi Ahmadi, prosecutors say.
Ahmadi, the first man to be extradited to Australia on people-smuggling charges, is being held in custody in Perth after pleading not guilty to four counts of human trafficking and 17 counts of illegally assisting individuals into Australia.
West Australian District Court Chief Judge Antoinette Kennedy, who has criticised prosecutors for delays in the case since Ahmadi's arrest in May last year, set a tentative May trial date when he appeared in court on Thursday.
The 33-year-old dual Iraqi-Iranian citizen was extradited from Indonesia on May 26 to face four counts of human trafficking and 17 counts of illegally assisting individuals into Australia.
He had been held in Indonesian custody since June 2008 after he was arrested at the request of the Australian government.
A spokeswoman for the commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions said outside court that up to 70 people are potential witnesses at Ahmadi's trial, but not all may be required to give evidence.
Most of the witnesses are understood to be from the Middle East and are among 900 asylum seekers Ahmadi is alleged to have smuggled into Australia between 1999 and 2001.
During previous court appearances, Ahmadi has protested his innocence and claimed he was being used as a political pawn.
He faces up to 20 years in jail if convicted of human trafficking charges.
Judge Kennedy set down the matter for a five-week trial beginning on May 24, subject to change if requested by parties to the hearing.
Jakarta seeks the extradition of five from Australia
'Indonesia is seeking the extradition of five men from Australia, two of them Australians. The extradition request was delivered during last week's visit by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
It's understood Dr Yudhoyono also raised the fate of 173 Indonesians held in Australian jails, accused of people-smuggling.
The five sought by Jakarta include three Indonesians believed to be living in Australia.
Indonesian Sofyan Sarabin, whose whereabouts is not known, and Australian Christopher John James, 36, from Mackay, are wanted for alleged fraud offences and their names are listed on the Interpol website. The other Australian named by Indonesian authorities is Peter Dundas Walbron, who is wanted over alleged acts of violence against children.
One of the two Indonesian nationals is Andrian Kiki Ariawan, a former Bank Surya chief convicted in absentia of corruption and embezzlement and sentenced to life imprisonment. He is alleged to have fled to Australia. Accused forger Jason Tanuwijaya is also thought to be living in Australia.
A spokesman for Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor said the government did not comment on extradition requests, but did not deny the five were being sought by Jakarta.
Last week, the state-run Antara news reported Indonesia's Law and Human Rights Minister Patrialis Akbar as saying a request for extradition had been sent to Canberra.
"We have fulfilled Canberra's request for the extradition of three of its criminals convicted in Indonesia but Australia has not done the same on our request for the extradition of five convicts now living in Australia," Mr Patrialis said.
"I have told the Australian Attorney-General and the Immigration Minister that we have to be balanced regarding the extradition cases," he said.
The three extradited to Australia were named as alleged pedophile Charles Alfred Barnett, 68, a former Adelaide priest; alleged people-smuggler Hadi Ahmadi; and Paul Francis Callahan, sought on child sex allegations.
It's understood the Indonesian leader raised concerns about 173 nationals accused of people-smuggling -- some currently before the courts. "SBY is concerned because he believes most of them are ordinary fishermen," a Jakarta source said.