News / Asia

Indonesia Fishermen Victimized by People-Smuggling Trade

Asylum seekers rescued from heavy seas off Java, wait inside a temporary detention room upon arrival at a local marine police station in Surabaya, East Java, Indonesia, July 29, 2012.
Asylum seekers rescued from heavy seas off Java, wait inside a temporary detention room upon arrival at a local marine police station in Surabaya, East Java, Indonesia, July 29, 2012.
Kate Lamb
JAKARTA — Fleeing troubled zones in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and Sri Lanka, a wave of asylum seekers heading to Australia is fueling the people-smuggling business in Indonesia. While bilateral efforts to tackle the illegal trade are underway, critics say that poor Indonesian fishermen are being unfairly punished in the crackdown.

News reports in Australia of desperate refugees risking their lives on rickety boats are now an almost weekly occurrence.

The Australian navy has been vigilantly policing the country's borders in recent years, arresting people smugglers and their clients, then towing the empty boats and burning them at sea.

But critics say the navy has also burned the boats of ordinary fishermen who stray into Australian waters, destroying their livelihood.

Matters worsened for fishermen in 2009 when the Montara oil spill left 18,000 fishermen out of work. Analysts say the pollution is equal in severity to the Gulf of Mexico spill.

Australian migration lawyer Greg Phelps, who is seeking compensation from the Australian government for a fisherman whose boat was burned, says poor fishermen from remote parts of Eastern Indonesia have few options to earn money, luring some into smuggling.

"The fishermen in the region are doing it very tough for a number of reasons," he said. "Some of the reasons are they have had their boats burnt, the other reason is that they are claiming all this loss of fishing capacity from the Montara oil spill… And so for one reason or another you’ve got fishermen who are sitting around with very little to do and they are an easy target for somebody organizing people-smuggling operations."

Phelps is currently representing two former Indonesian fishermen at the Australian High Court after they were caught transporting asylum seekers.

This year the number of people seeking asylum in Australia has surpassed any other.

But Phelps says that punishing the fishermen isn’t helping to stem the tide.

"So we have the situation where the people that aren’t the kingpins that are organizing the smuggling," he said. "They are just the little punter that’s been selected to steer the boat and he’s coming out of it facing mandatory imprisonment for two years and you know the whole business model was to find a boat that was disposable, find a captain that is disposable and just let them both sail off and they might have half a million dollars worth of profit on the vessel for the organizers…”

In Indonesia, recent media reports have also highlighted the involvement of several Indonesian army officers in the people-smuggling trade.

One officer is on trial in East Java this week following allegations he organized boats for asylum seekers.

The issue of Indonesian minors hired as cooks and crew on the boats and then detained in Australian adult prisons on people-smuggling charges has also sparked fierce criticism.

Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Michael Tene says fishermen and minors are often duped into working on the boats and do not fully understand what they are getting involved in.

He says both governments are working closely to protect Indonesian fishermen who become unwittingly embroiled in the trade.

"We are very much concerned about this situation and we have been working closely with the Australian government to address this issue, particularly those involving minors," he said. "We will also enhance our efforts our people who are living on the coastlines, fishermen on the implications of people-smuggling activities."

Australia is under immense political pressure to deliver a solution, but efforts to establish an offshore processing center in East Timor and other regional locations have failed and ignited debate further.

More than 6,000 asylum seekers have arrived in Australia this year and hundreds more have died at sea since 2011.

You May Like

Captured IS Militants Explain Why They Fought

Fighters from Turkey, Syria tell VOA Kurdish Service what drew them to extremism, jihad More

Security Experts Split on Kenyan Barrier Wall

Experts divided on whether initiative aiming to keep out al-Shabab militants is long-awaited solution or misguided effort More

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Officials say they hope to turn Manila into the next Macau, which has long been Asia’s gambling hub More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More