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

Could Nemtsov Threaten Putin in Death as in Life?

Dynamic and debonair opposition leader had supported liberal economic reforms, criticized Russian president's aggression in Ukraine More

Oil Smuggling Highlights Challenges in Shutting Down IS Finances

Pentagon spokesman says Islamic State 'certainly continues to get revenue from the oil industry black market' but that airstrikes have made a dent More

India Focuses on Infrastructure, Investment to Propel Economy

Government expects economy to grow at 8 to 8.5 percent in next fiscal year More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

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