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

On Everest, Helicopters Rescue Stranded Climbers

Choppers transport some of more than 100 mountaineers trapped after deadly quake, avalanches More

Video Ten Years After Riots, France Searches for Answers to Neglected Suburbs

In 2005, a Paris suburb exploded into violence after two teenagers were electrocuted as they hid from police; since then, somethings have changed, others not More

US, Japan Announce Historic Revision of Defense Cooperation Guidelines

Nations say new guidelines will be 'cornerstone for peace and security' in Asia-Pacific region while also serving as 'platform for a more stable international security environment' More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
‘Angel of the Migrants’ Helps Desperate Syrians Arriving in Europei
X
Henry Ridgwell
April 26, 2015 10:36 PM
Waves of migrants are continuing to arrive on the shores of southern Italy from North Africa. After their dangerous journey across the Mediterranean, they face an unknown future in Europe. In the Sicilian city of Catania there is an activist dedicated to helping the refugees on their journey.
Video

Video ‘Angel of the Migrants’ Helps Desperate Syrians Arriving in Europe

Waves of migrants are continuing to arrive on the shores of southern Italy from North Africa. After their dangerous journey across the Mediterranean, they face an unknown future in Europe. In the Sicilian city of Catania there is an activist dedicated to helping the refugees on their journey.
Video

Video Ten Years After Riots, France Searches for Answers to Neglected Suburbs

January’s terrorist attacks and fears of more to come are casting a spotlight on France’s neglected suburbs. Home to many immigrants, and sometimes hubs of crime, they were rocked by rioting a decade ago. Lisa Bryant visited the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois, where the 2005 violence first broke out, and has this report about what has changed and what has not.
Video

Video Gay Marriage Goes Before US Supreme Court

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether gay people have a constitutional right to marriage. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the case could lead to the nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage, or a continuation of the status quo in which individual states decide whether to recognize gay unions.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.

VOA Blogs