Indonesian authorities say they have arrested the leader of a people smuggling ring that tried to sneak asylum seekers into Australia illegally. The suspect is thought to be responsible for a boat filled with asylum seekers that sank last month, killing 350 people.
A spokesman for Indonesia's national police chief says they have arrested an Egyptian named Abu Quassey and one of his gang members in West Java on Sunday. But the search continues for four other members of the people-smuggling ring.
The spokesman says Indonesia is coordinating with Australian officials in their efforts to crack the network. He says Australia had identified Mr. Quassey as a prime suspect in a number of cases of asylum-seekers being brought illegally from the Middle East to Australia, using Indonesia as a jump-off point.
At least 350 asylum seekers, mainly from Iraq and Afghanistan, died last month when the boat they were on sank before reaching Australia.
Some of the 44 people who survived the tragedy say they paid the people smugglers up to $4,000 to board the ship. This survivor says the smuggler told him the ship he would travel on was as nice as an airplane. "He showed to me a photo of the ship. And when I saw for the first time, it was not the ship I saw in the photo. As you know, Afghanistan people do not know about the ship and water because we have no water there nearby us. So I thought that it would be OK. They told me in around 12 hours you would arrive to Australia. But it was incorrect," the survivor said.
Officials with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Jakarta have called for a police inquiry into the tragedy. Raymond Hall, the commission's regional representative, says he is satisfied to hear police are following up on the case. "We have been calling for a number of months for stiffer action to be taken against human smugglers and we would be very happy for progress to be made in that direction as we consider it essential," Hall said.
Thousands of asylum seekers go through Indonesia each year as they try to reach Australia illegally. The Australian government is trying to stop the traffic. Australia refuses to allow asylum seekers in while their applications for refugee status are being considered.