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

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Troops Depart

Afghans are grappling with how exodus will affect country's fragile economy More

Video Scientists Say We Need Softer Robots

Today’s robots are mostly hard, rigid machines, with sharp edges and forceful movements, but researchers at Carnegie Mellon University say they should be softer and therefore safer More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs