Island boys and Indonesian smuggling laws
Tough and tougher heaps misery on innocent boys
Jakarta has finally passed its long promised anti people-smuggling legislation.
Promised? Yes, the laws were promised - but not to its own 240 million people, to its own voters or to its constituents. The legislation was a promise to its nagging and insistent neighbour, Australia. Years of work, dozens of media statements from Australian Ministers and MPs, years of talk about the "Bali Process", the "Bali Agreement" and years of lobbying went into it.
Have our politicians taught us that "people smugglers" stand in the way of taking into our country the thousands of asylum seekers stranded "in transit" in Indonesia? No, they haven't.
Instead, there's been a massive political campaign to ram down the throats of Australians that people smugglers are evil, that they are the scum of the earth, that they run a vile industry. That campaign has run in tandem with the equally massive campaign to convince Australians that those awaiting shelter from Australia are "illegal immigrants", "queue jumpers" or "economic forumshoppers" -- or there has simply been a deafening silence about those thousands stuck in Indonesia.
That manipulative political campaign is not new. Fifteen years ago, on 28 June 1996, WA Greens Senator Christabel Chamarette told the Senate:
"The community has been bombarded with government statements that the boat people are queue jumpers, that they are the victims of unscrupulous entrepreneurs in other countries who are making money by providing boats, that they are being used by touting lawyers who want to make money out of the misery of others, and that they are not refugees anyway."
What's on this page?
This page brings together some media reports about the passing of Indonesia's anti people-smuggling laws, some short reports about a Brisbane conviction of four smugglers, and most of all, it includes an extraordinary feature from The Weekend Australian about one of the young Indonesian "smugglers".
1 April 2010: Is Mr Hadi Ahmadi a people smuggler or escape organiser? - Mr Hadi Ahmadi assisted in bringing four boats to Australia. His passengers were not 'illegal immigrants' but asylum seekers: of the 900 passengers, no less than 866 were declared genuine refugees once their claims were processed. That's a success rate of 97%. Does that make him a people smuggler or a UN Convention enabler - or an "escape organiser"?
19 April 2010: The 2010 Anti-Smuggling Legislation - Punishing smugglers, or finding a covert way to lock Australia's borders? "In view of commitments given by Australia under the UN Refugee Convention, also to refugees arriving by boat, this legislation gives the appearance of being highly manipulative in nature."
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.
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.
Click the links below to jump down to the articles and items on this page with the same title.
Tougher people-smuggling laws to be passed in Indonesia
Sydney Morning Herald
Indonesia is expected to pass long-awaited laws to combat people smuggling today but doubts remain if they will make a significant difference to the flow of asylum seekers in transit through the country to Australia.
The laws, promised by Indonesia in 2002, have had a torturous journey to the floor of national parliament and will introduce prison terms of up to 15 years for people smugglers, while also imposing restrictive conditions on refugees stuck in the country.
Indonesian and Australian authorities hope the tougher prison sentences will be a deterrent for people smugglers, who have acted in Indonesia with virtual impunity, knowing they can be charged only with modest immigration offences and can often bribe their way out of trouble.
The legislation also provides for prison terms of five to seven years for officials accepting bribes from human traffickers.
Even so, as one senior Indonesian police officer involved in combating people smuggling told the Herald yesterday: ''There is the death sentence for drugs cases, but criminals committing drugs offences remain high.''
And, like drug trafficking, people smuggling is a highly lucrative and expanding trade, as asylum seekers flock to Australia, encouraged by the government's commitment to grant them residency in a relatively short period of time if they are found to be genuine refugees.
Many refugees, including those in Indonesia who were caught before getting on a boat to Australia or were ripped off by people smugglers, wait up to a decade for a country to resettle them.
The new law provides a limit of 10 years on refugees staying in Indonesia before they are deported. Indonesia, unlike Australia, is not a signatory to United Nations refugee conventions, although it allows the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to assess asylum seekers in Jakarta, even if it won't allow them to migrate to Indonesia.
Compared to other developing countries, Indonesia is humanitarian towards refugees. For example, it allows them to live in villa complexes and hostels and to receive food and medical aid.
But Indonesia also refuses to let refugees work or study, including school-aged children. Many turn to crime, including people smuggling, often to raise money for attempted boat trips to Australia.
According to a legislator, Dimyati Natakusumah, there will also be restrictions on the movements on refugees in the bill.
''They must stay within the compound, they cannot walk around,'' he said.
The executive director of the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre, David Manne, said the conditions would make life very difficult for refugees living in Indonesia.
''People will feel so desperate, they will have no option but to move to somewhere safe. For example, they will risk getting on a boat to Australia,'' Mr Manne said.
Indonesia passes laws criminalising people smuggling
ABC Online News
Indonesia's parliament has passed tough new laws aimed at fighting people smuggling, including penalties of between five and 15 years in prison for those convicted.
Corrupt immigration officials, who often assist people smugglers, will face up to seven years in prison for providing travel documents to people who do not qualify for them.
Those who fail to report officials, smugglers and asylum seekers guilty of immigration violations also face five years in prison.
Until now, people smugglers have been prosecuted for simple immigration violations or breaches of the maritime law which carry a relatively light sentence.
"We ratified today an amended law on immigration which includes criminalising people smugglers," said Benny Harman, a Democrat Party politician overseeing the immigration commission.
"This is a big step forward for us."
Australian Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor says the laws will have a positive effect.
"These laws will act as a strong deterrent so people engaged in this activity are more likely to be no longer engaged," he said.
"These come off the back of the recent laws passed in Malaysia.
"We're seeing a regional approach to this global problem and we applaud the Indonesian parliament today."
The anti-people smuggling law was first proposed about eight years ago.
It is not clear how long it will be before Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono issues a decree to bring it into effect.
Indonesia is a major transit route for asylum seekers wanting to reach Australia.
The new laws come after a people-smuggling conference in Bali last week reached a regional cooperation agreement.
On Wednesday, East Timor confirmed it had rejected Australia's proposal to set up a refugee processing centre there.
People smugglers jailed for 5 years
Four poverty-stricken Indonesian fishermen who brought asylum seekers to Australia on dilapidated wooden fishing boats have been jailed for five years.
Ferry Irawan, 29, Sali, 45, Joko Sampurno, 23, and Anton Tambunan, 29, were tempted by promises of cash in return for transporting 74 Afghani, Kurdish and Iranian men, women and children from Indonesia to Australia, the Supreme Court in Brisbane was told on Friday.
They each pleaded guilty to bringing non-citizens into Australia.
The court heard Tambunan, who earned just $20 a week in his home country, was paid only $300 to make the perilous journey.
The asylum seekers paid people smugglers in Indonesia and Afghanistan between $5000 and $15,000 for their place on a boat.
Prosecutor Glen Rice told the court Sali and Irawan were two of four crew members on a wooden boat that left Indonesia on January 21 last year.
It was intercepted near Ashmore Reef, off the northwestern coast of Australia, after 10 days at sea.
Sampurno and Tambunan were the only two crew members on board the second boat, which left Indonesia on February 20 last year.
It was intercepted near Christmas Island six days later.
The court heard both vessels were ill-equipped for the trip, with limited safety equipment, food and water.
One boat had only a compass and child's atlas by way of navigational tools and was dangerously overcrowded.
The court was told the accused men had only limited schooling and were lured by the hope that the promised money would help them feed and care for their families.
The court heard general deterrence was an important sentencing factor, as 141 boats had been intercepted in Australian waters since January last year.
Justice John Byrne sentenced the men to the statutory minimum, as designated by the federal government, of five years' jail.
The men will all be released after serving three years behind bars, when they will likely be deported.
Brisbane judge jails people smugglers
ABC Online News
A Brisbane judge has jailed four Indonesian people smugglers.
Ferry Irawan, 29, and Sali, 45, were two of four crew members on board an Indonesian fishing boat intercepted by the Navy near Ashmore Reef in January last year.
Twenty-nine Afghan nationals were on board.
Joko Sampurno, 23, and Anton Tambunan, 29, were intercepted on a second vessel with 45 Afghans, Kurds and Iranians on board near Christmas Island in February last year.
All four pleaded guilty in the Supreme Court to people smuggling.
Their lawyers said the men were poor and at the bottom of the people-smuggling hierarchy.
Justice John Byrne sentenced each of the men to a mandatory minimum term of five years' jail with a non-parole period of three years.
Indonesian boy in adult jail says he's scared
An Indonesian boy on remand in Hakea Prison has told human rights advocates he is living in fear in the adult jail.
The boy claims he is 16 and says he was born in March 1995.
Indonesian consular officials in Perth have spoken to the boy's family, who say he had just turned 16.
He is in the adult prison awaiting people-smuggling charges after allegedly working as a cook on a boat that carried 50 asylum seekers to Ashmore Reef in June last year.
The boy is understood to be working alongside sex offenders in the prison laundry.
He has been in the prison for nearly two months.
The Australian Federal Police have declared the boy an adult and say that, on the basis of a wrist X-ray, he is 19.
Senior lecturer in Medical Imaging at Curtin University Luke Barclay said wrist X-rays were not a fail-safe measure of a person's age.
"The approach is fraught with inaccuracies," Mr Barclay said.
Human rights advocate Gerry Georgatos said the boy had told him he was frightened.
"His last words to me when I visited him in Hakea were: 'I'm scared being in here'," Mr Georgatos said.
He blew the whistle on the boy's age after seeing him inside the prison and asking his date of birth.
Since that time Mr Georgatos, who has been visiting prisoners in the jail for the past five years, has had all of his visiting rights revoked without explanation.
Vice-consul for the Indonesian consulate in Perth Nurul Sofia Soeparan said she visited the boy and was immediately struck by how young he looked.
Ms Soeparan had contacted the boy's family on the remote Indonesian island of Batam and was waiting for a copy of his birth certificate.
If his age is confirmed as 16, the boy will be the second Indonesian minor this year to be found languishing in the WA prison system.
In January a 16-year-old boy, who had been in jail for 12 months, was returned to Indonesia after his birth certificate was shown to a magistrate in Perth, challenging the results of a wrist X-ray used by Federal police.
Lawyers are preparing an appeal in the case of another convicted people smuggler who also says he is 16.
Mr Georgatos said scores of underage Indonesian nationals could be languishing in the prison system.
Human rights and refugee advocates have called for a reassessment of all Indonesians in Australian prisons who claim to be juveniles.
Chairwoman of Children Out of Immigration Detention Kate Gauthier said there was enough doubt over wrist X-rays to say they should not be used.
Legal aid for crews tops $4m
More than $4 million in taxpayer-funded legal aid will be provided to the crew members of asylum-seeker boats who are on trial in Australia this year on people-smuggling charges.
The Attorney-General's Department has revealed that more than 198 crew -- who are referred to as people-smugglers but are rarely the masterminds behind the operation -- are awaiting trial in various states, with a further 161 under investigation for possible prosecution.
On average, about $20,000 per case is paid in legal aid for defended matters, on top of about $5000 a day in estimated court costs to administer the trials.
The costs were revealed in written answers from the Attorney-General's Department to questions from Liberal senator Russell Trood in February Senate estimates hearings.
They were based on funding provided to Western Australia, which until recently heard 95 per cent of cases because the majority of people arrive off its northwest coast.
Last July, the federal government agreed to give the state respite from hearing the vast majority of cases, transferring defendants to Queensland and NSW for trial.
Because of the escalating costs and increased boat arrivals, the states pushed for more funding at a meeting of the nation's attorneys-general in December.
As of the middle of last month, 353 people had been arrested and charged with people-smuggling offences since June 2009.
Refugee lawyer Marion Le said the number of people being put on trial in Australia for people-smuggling and the subsequent cost was "extraordinary".
"This whole thing is an abuse of process . . . most of the people who arrive here as crew of these boats are not big-time players and it has to be stopped at the other end, not by prosecuting these people who often are just poor fisherman," Ms Le said.
"I'm flabbergasted by the figures and also the numbers of people being prosecuted in the first place . . . personally, I think the money would be far better spent on setting up a regional processing centre now so these people don't have to get on boats and take these risks."
Opposition border protection spokesman Michael Keenan said the taxpayer burden was a cost of Labor's failed policies. "This is happening because Labor went soft on our borders and encouraged people-smugglers to direct people here," he said.
A spokesman for Attorney-General Robert McClelland said providing legal representation for people charged with serious Commonwealth offences was essential to facilitate a fair trial and to avoid prosecutions being stayed indefinitely, following a High Court decision in 1992.
The revelations over legal aid funding came just a day after Border Protection Command revealed it had intercepted the 16th asylum-seeker vessel to arrive in Australian waters this year, carrying 53 passengers and two crew.
Feature: Caught in the net
Christine Jackman reports on her investigation into the lucrative trade of people smuggling.
In February, when the winds of the west monsoon begin to ebb, the island fishermen of Indonesia once again turn their faces to the sea. They know they have only a few months to reap a harvest from the ocean before the storms return, this time driven by the east monsoon. It is not long to feed a family, much less to amass savings or build a dream. But the men of Nusa Tenggara, the remote south-east island region, know no other way. For their fathers, their grandfathers, and their ancient ancestors, hope has always floated aboard a perahu, bobbing on the edge of the tide.
And so it was in February 2010, when a teenager named Ardi headed down to the water. That is his only name. He is 16, he believes, although he has no way of confirming it. Few people here have more than a basic education -- Ardi made it to Year 3 -- which makes reading a luxury, and legal documentation like birth certificates a rarity.
He is an orphan, too. After his father died when Ardi was 10, he and his mother moved from their home on Sulawesi to live with his brother Kamarudin's family in Kampung Tengah in south-east Lombok. For six years, the four adults and three children shared a two-room shack, with no power or plumbing, built high to escape the sludge and garbage-strewn water that swamps the village every monsoon season. Then, in 2009, Ardi's mother died too, leaving her family with debts accumulated during her long illness, and her youngest son untethered.
With no money, no education and no boat of his own, planning a future beyond this fishing village seemed almost unfathomable. And yet, the Bugis tribes of Sulawesi have long held to the custom of merantu (to move away and find one's fortune); it was this principle that led Kamarudin to Lombok after their father's death.
Perhaps, then, merantu was playing in Ardi's mind as the teenager killed time around Kampung Tengah's ramshackle harbour, watching younger boys play soccer amid hillocks of waste and rotting fish. Perhaps, as he waited for another crewing job to come up, he was fretting about how he would help pay his family's debts. Or maybe, like so many impatient young men, he was simply desperate to escape the grinding tedium of life in a forgotten corner of the world.
Whatever the mix, Ardi was ripe for the picking when a man named Anjas came to town. The pair had worked together years ago, crewing another fishing boat, but now Anjas was saying he had his own vessel further down the coast. Forget fishing, Anjas told him. There is good money to be made ferrying sightseers around the islands. Everyone knows foreigners pay well.
Ten months earlier and more than 5000km away, a man named Kevin Rudd had stared down the barrel of a camera and declared people-smugglers to be "the absolute scum of the Earth", vile creatures who should "rot in jail and, in my own view, in hell". But here in Kampung Tengah, Ardi knew nothing about foreign relations. He rarely saw a television, didn't speak English, had never been to his own nation's capital, Jakarta. Canberra might as well be on the moon.
And so this 16-year-old orphan said yes, he would take some well-heeled foreigners to a far-flung island, for more money than he could make in the next season of fishing. He might not have known it, but Ardi had just agreed to become a people-smuggler. But is he really the scum of the Earth? And will condemning him to rot in jail achieve anything in Australia's vexed battle to curb its rising tide of boat arrivals?
You don't have to be a bleeding heart or a leftie to care about Ardi or the 300-plus Indonesian fishermen like him who are currently in Australian jails or detention centres, facing five-year prison terms, with mandatory three-year minimums, for people-smuggling. Because, despite all the hype about being tough on the "scum of the Earth", Australia is currently only successful in arresting and jailing people like Ardi -- barely literate fishermen in the lowest rank of people-smugglers -- at a potential cost per case to the Australian taxpayer of close to $1 million, and with no demonstrable impact on the trade at all.
"The cost of running a criminal trial in the District Court would usually be between $30,000 and $50,000 a day," explains David Svoboda, the Brisbane solicitor acting for Ardi. "As each defendant in a people-smuggling case is non-English-speaking, the trial can take three times as long. Therefore, a trial which would normally take one week will take three -- and the cost to the community per trial blows out to between $450,000 and $750,000." Svoboda's Brisbane law firm, Peter Shields Lawyers, began accepting people-smuggling clients through Legal Aid "at the rate of one new client every two weeks" after the Federal Government intervened in mid-2010 to relieve Western Australia of some of the burden of prosecuting the bulk of those cases. Once sentenced, it costs $80,000-$100,000 to keep one prisoner behind bars for a year. Which means that a conservative calculation suggests it will easily cost Australians more than $220 million to prosecute and jail the 300-odd accused people-smugglers held on our shores.
On paper -- particularly the paper on which ministerial press releases are issued -- this certainly looks like the Federal Government is getting tough on people-smugglers. But the maths only works if the people we are jailing are indeed the "scum of the Earth" who mastermind and coordinate operations designed to exploit the 15 million refugees in the world today. Or, failing that, if we are at least capable of jailing enough minor operatives to disable the entire operation.
And that is where the numbers fall apart. For, in the decade since John Howard declared that "we decide who comes to this country", this nation has successfully tried only a handful of "snakeheads", the men who coordinate the trade. So far, only one organiser of multiple boats has been successfully tried; last year, dual Iraqi-Iranian citizen Hadi Ahmadi was extradited from Indonesia to face charges relating to the coordination of four boats that transported more than 900 asylum-seekers to Christmas Island in 2001. The 35-year-old was sentenced to seven years' jail with a non-parole period of four.
The bulk of the rest are like Ardi -- illiterate, impoverished fishermen who received a one-off payment to do something that was not even illegal in their own country. And, sitting in fishing villages spread across the vast archipelago that is Indonesia, there are hundreds of thousands just like them. Says Svoboda: "I suppose we can keep jailing them, but you have to wonder how many millions will have to be spent before it makes any dent at all in the trade."
There was a full moon the night Ardi met his passengers for the first time. It was close to midnight and he had just climbed aboard yet another perahu, anchored off a sandy beach near Muncar, in east Java. Anjas had brought him there -- first by ferry from Lombok to Bali, and then on to Muncar -- and although the journey took several days, he hadn't questioned it. "It is not unusual for poor Indonesians to travel a long way for work," he says later. When they arrived at the beach earlier that evening, Anjas introduced him to another man already waiting there with a dinghy. There is a larger boat anchored beyond the breakers, Anjas told him. Sail that boat back to Lombok, and then on to Sambah and Sabu. He handed Ardi his payment of five million rupiah ($550) but did not get into the rowboat as the young man helped push it into the water. It was the last time Ardi would see Anjas.
The smaller boat made its way through the silver-flecked waves and eventually Ardi spied it; about 20m long and painted light blue, a vessel that seemed at first almost indistinguishable from the handful that wallowed in the harbour back home. But when Ardi clambered up from the dinghy, it quickly became apparent there was nothing typical about this boat. Apart from one other young Indonesian -- who introduced himself as Sam, appointed by Anjas as captain -- the deck was crowded with 28 foreigners, crouching and sitting, who looked utterly unlike tourists. They were subdued, and there were no women or children among them.
"We didn't really try to communicate with them," Ardi says, "as they couldn't speak Indonesian. They didn't even speak that much between themselves. I just tried to be kind to them." The men were Afghans. At the time of the voyage, their average age was 32 years old, most were married with children -- and they were asylum-seekers or, depending on your political position, queue-jumpers. Even if they could have surmounted the language barrier, few would have had anything in common with Ardi -- but perhaps Jalil Malikzhad came closest. At 22 years old and unmarried, you could almost imagine him hanging out with Ardi's friends back in Kampung Tengah, men like 25-year-old Hezi and 24-year-old Subardi. "One day we listened to football [on a radio] from Sydney," Hezi tells me, through a translator. "That's all Ardi knew of Australia."
When Ardi disappeared without word, his mates assumed he had landed work on a visiting boat. That is not uncommon here -- and nor, it seems, is failing to return. "We thought he'd drowned," says Hezi plainly. They were angrier when they learnt who Ardi had left with. "We knew Anjas because he came back here once, looking for work. He got drunk and people were angry... I wouldn't have been interested if Anjas had made that offer to me. You can make a good enough wage on a fishing boat."
But sitting nearby with her three children -- Ardi's nieces and nephew -- his sister-in-law, Mita, disputes this. "There are times when they can't go fishing, or when they don't catch enough," she says. "And, of course, then we feel very sorry. We have nothing to cook then."
But while the villagers fretted, Ardi was busy off their coastline cooking meals for other young men. "I saw this person [Ardi] every day," Jalil told the Australian Federal Police later, during an interview on Christmas Island. "He would relieve the other one and drive the boat and also cook food for us. He would come by every night and count us to make sure we were all still on board. They would both ask us if we were OK and they looked after us well."
A university student who had formerly been enrolled in his second year of a Bachelor of Business Administration, Jalil declined the offer of an interpreter for this interview about his trip aboard the vessel tagged "SIEV 111". He speaks English fluently, as well as a little Hindi, and his native Hazaragi.
Jalil told police he decided to leave his home, a village in Afghanistan's Ghazni province, in 2009 because he wanted "to go to a safer place". After crossing the border he settled briefly in the Pakistani town of Quetta which, if you spend any time reading the statements of asylum seekers, quickly becomes a familiar name. Known as the "fruit garden of Pakistan" for its diverse plant life, Quetta appears to have developed a more lucrative harvest: false passports, visas and other travel documents for the human tide flowing from Afghanistan and Iran. "I met ... a person I know only as Hamid and paid him $US1000 in advance to obtain the travel documents and agreed to pay him a further $US9000 for travel arrangements to Holland," Jalil told the AFP.
"Hamid provided me with an Afghanistan passport, air tickets and a visa for Malaysia. I then realised there was no visa for Holland in the passport. I asked him about this and he told me that I had to follow his instructions and I had to fly to Malaysia; when I got there they would then decide where I would go."
After handing over a further instalment of $US4000, Jalil caught a bus to Karachi and boarded a plane to Kuala Lumpur, where a team of Hamid's agents were expecting him. "I was directed to go to the [airport's] lost counter and the lady there placed a piece of paper in my passport and I went through to a guard who took me through and put me in a taxi. I then caught the taxi to a guest house." When he arrived, Hamid's agents told Jalil he would not be going to Holland. Instead, the people-smugglers offered Australia -- and having already entered Malaysia illegally, and with little prospect of having his $US5000 reimbursed, Jalil hardly had a choice.
Ten days later, another emissary arrived to take Jalil and several other men to the Malaysian coast, where they were met at night by a small boat and taken across the Malacca Strait, presumably to northern Sumatra, the most common entry point used to infiltrate Indonesia.
"We walked through the water to the shore [and then] for about 15 minutes into the jungle," Jalil recalled. The Afghans were then transferred from cars to minibuses and eventually a bigger bus, stopping at safe houses along the way, until they arrived in Bogor, a city about 60km south of Jakarta, and one of the most densely populated urban centres on Earth. It would be easy to get lost here. Or remain hidden.
"I was then met by another agent [who] took us and two other Afghans to a villa, where we stayed for about two months," Jalil said. "We were not allowed to move much and had to stay inside most of the time. During this time I went to Jakarta and registered with the UN. After two months, I paid another $US5000 for my trip and we were driven by car to Jakarta. In Jakarta we stayed at San Francisco Bay Apartments for another two months. During this time, they said the water was not good and we had to wait until it got better before we could go. We were then moved back to Bogor and kept in another villa."
Finally, in February 2010, word came that the monsoon had passed. Soon, the asylum-seeker and the people-smuggler would return to the sea.
The real challenges
"I know people-smuggling is wrong." emblazoned on coffee mugs and T-shirts, the slogan is not going to win any advertising awards for innovation or creative copy. But that's not the point. At the forefront of a $4 million education campaign funded by the Australian Government and launched last year in Indonesia, it is intended to ram home the message that there are tough consequences for people-smuggling. Apart from distributing the promotional gear at village festivals and community centres, organisers also created radio ads featuring fishermen discussing the pros and cons of accepting money to take people to Australia, and enlisted the support of local Muslim preachers to spread the word in their weekly sermons. "There were three levels to the message," one local organiser explained. "One, that people smuggling is illegal in Australia; two, that it is immoral; and three, that it is an affront to harqua diri, the traditional understanding of self-value or reputation."
When The Australian's former Jakarta correspondent Stephen Fitzpatrick reported on the program's roll-out last year, he noted great enthusiasm in villages that had been targeted. But Fitzpatrick also detected a more cynical response to the suggestion that people-smuggling could be stopped. "The problem is that the smugglers don't care where they drop these people -- so long as their cargo is unloaded, then they disappear immediately," Sangkot, a chief whose village overlooks the Malacca Strait, told him. "And out here, we are far from authorities, so it's easy for them to do it undetected."
And this is only one challenge facing those tasked with spreading the message: Indonesia comprises 240 million people from roughly 300 distinct ethnic groups and speaking more than 700 different languages and dialects, spread across more than 6000 islands. Then factor in that a substantial number of those people, including almost all who, as fishermen, are the targets of people-smuggling recruiters, can barely read, do not own a television and probably don't know what a PC looks like.
But even those issues pale beside the greatest problem facing the campaign: until last week, people-smuggling was not wrong in Indonesia, not in any legal sense, anyway. However, on April 7 the Indonesian Parliament ended nine years of resistance to international pressure to toughen its stance, formally passing laws first proposed in 2002 that include up to 15 years' jail for convicted people-smugglers and up to seven years' jail for immigration officials receiving kickbacks for providing false travel documents. President Susilo Bambang Yudyohono, who last year assured a historic joint sitting of the Australian Parliament that he would deliver the laws, must now issue an official decree for them to take effect.
But many who are familiar with the way the law operates on the ground in Indonesia remain reluctant to pronounce the end of people-smuggling. "What you have to understand is there are already volumes of laws on the books in Indonesia that have no meaningful impact on the lives of Indonesians," says one NGO staffer, whose work involves day-to-day contact with asylum-seekers. "To your average 17-year-old sitting on the end of a pier somewhere on the coast, justice and the legal process just doesn't exist... And quite frankly, there is a common view here that 'why is this our problem?' You know, these people want to get to Australia, so why don't we just let them do that?"
The worker points to the complex chain of kickbacks, bribes and profiteering that goes hand-in-hand with the illicit trade. Indeed, just weeks before Yudhoyono flew to Australia, 93 asylum-seekers had been arrested in Java as they travelled in a convoy of three Indonesian military buses, driven by Defence Department staff accompanied by guards in camouflage gear.
Consider, too, the dozens of people referenced in Jalil Malikzhad's account to the AFP, and ask whether it is really possible that police, customs and various other government authorities are genuinely oblivious to such a thriving trade. The staffer sighs: "Where's the interest in changing all that? Effective legislation is obviously one bullet you want in your revolver, but it's not going to change everything overnight."
A bewildering end
As Sam gunned the engine and turned the boat east, Ardi surveyed the unfamiliar faces on the deck and defaulted to the typical attitude of the jobbing crewman. "I didn't really think about it being strange, because we were told to head east to Lombok, where I lived," he tells me later, though his Australian lawyer. "And you just go where the boss tells you to go."
Sam had been given the coordinates to aim for but the pair discovered they had limited equipment on board -- inside the wheelhouse there was a compass and a map, but no GPS -- and nor were there lifejackets, although that is not unusual for Indonesian fishermen. Elsewhere, they found a red tarpaulin that could be slung over the deck during the heat of the day and, stowed in the bow of the boat, eggs, packets of noodles, water and tea. When Sam needed to sleep, Ardi took over the wheel, occasionally climbing atop the cabin and steering with his feet, as Indonesian fisherman are wont to do. Otherwise, he kept an eye on the engine's oil levels, mustered some of the passengers to operate a water pump located near the engine room, and cooked meals for the Afghans twice a day.
"The crew were good to me and the other passengers," Safar Ali Aashouri, a 48-year-old shopkeeper, whose wife and eight children are still living in Quetta, told AFP officers later. "I saw [Ardi] cook 'Maggi' noodles and eggs in the room on the boat... He gave me food and water."
Land developer Zulfiqar Ali, 36, was similarly complimentary of the Indonesians: "I saw [Ardi] cook many times. He used a kerosene burner to cook the noodles. He also brought the food to everyone. I never heard the crew members arguing with each other. I did not ever think the crew members were angry with the passengers or scared of us. When [Ardi] gave us our food, he gave very good service."
Still, a week at sea in cramped conditions will test any passenger, regardless of the quality of service. Among the Afghans, at least, there was a palpable sense of relief when they realised they had been spotted by Australian authorities. "On the sixth day of the journey, I saw a plane circling above us," Zulfiqar Ali recalled later. "I was very happy and did not see what the crew were doing. That night, the Australian authorities intercepted and later took us to Christmas Island."
In fact, Ardi and Sam had sailed far closer to the Australian mainland than Christmas Island or Ashmore Reef, the geographical points most commonly associated with illegal boat arrivals. When the boat was intercepted by the Customs vessel Holdfast Bay at around 1am on Sunday, March 7, 2010, it was roughly 90km from Adele Island, which itself sits about 100km from WA's Kimberley coast. Its occupants would ultimately be transported several hundred kilometres back across the Indian Ocean towards Indonesia, to be detained on Christmas Island.
For the Afghans, a long and arduous journey had ended just as they had, apparently, been told it would. But for Ardi, the boarding of the little perahu by several Australians who would, several hours later, torch it and watch it sink -- having first retained the Indonesian flag for "evidentiary purposes" -- heralded a nightmare of confusion.
"I didn't fully realise it wasn't a sightseeing trip or just taking people to another port of Indonesia until I woke up when the boat was stopped by an Australian patrol boat," he says later. "I was confused. I wanted to ask them questions about what was happening but I couldn't. The other people on the boat were just doing what the officials told them." And so, as he had done most of his life, Ardi did what he was told, too.
State of powerlessness
Basic human psychology is such that none of us likes to live in a state of anxiety and fear; instead, the tendency is to try to define the source of that fear and, if we cannot counter it ourselves, seek assurance that someone or something else is doing so for us. Nowhere is that more clear than in politics. Rightly or wrongly, once our leaders convinced us we should particularly dread the sight of fishing boats carrying foreigners in our northern waters -- so much more alien than those disembarking from 747s at Sydney's international airport -- they needed to tell us how they were going to protect us from that scourge.
But their options were severely limited. None of the major transit countries used by Middle Eastern asylum seekers -- Pakistan, Malaysia and Indonesia -- are signatories to the United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. As such, they are neither bound to respect the UN definition of who qualifies as a refugee, nor obliged to cooperate with the UN or other signatory countries, in terms of sharing information or assisting in the management of refugee flows.
Australia is powerless to make arrests in Quetta, where a man named Hamid will take your $10,000 and provide you with a false passport and transport to a new life. Our hands are tied in Kuala Lumpur, where staff and guards are apparently on call to act as welcome committees. We have no authority to patrol the Malacca Strait, renowned throughout history as a channel for illicit smuggling and piracy. And we have had a limited impact in Indonesia.
Instead, we arrest and jail illiterate fishermen, presenting them as "scum of the Earth" who prey on the desperate and fearful, while shopkeepers like Safar Ali Aashouri and land developers like Zulfiqar Ali, men who have paid more for their passage to Australia than Ardi is likely to see in a lifetime of fishing -- praise them for their "good service" and regular presentation of noodles.
Meanwhile, Ardi sits in a Brisbane jail and grows fat waiting for his trial. He eats more regularly and better here at the Arthur Gorrie Correctional Centre than he did in his family's fishing shack, but all he wants is to be back in Kampung Tengah, jostling for space between his two adoring nieces and impish nephew.
And somewhere on the coast of Lombok, a man named Anjas is likely to be picking his way through another dusty tangle of village laneways, down to a harbour where the perahu are moored, and bored young men kick battered soccer balls, trade jokes and dream of better lives.