Lone children found on people-smuggling boats
Tom Allard in Jakarta, SMH
December 6, 2008
UNACCOMPANIED children are increasingly turning up as asylum seekers on vessels attempting to cross from Indonesia to Australia, the Immigration Minister, Chris Evans, said yesterday.
People-smugglers charge up to $18,000 for the trip from the Middle East and Sri Lanka, meaning families can sometimes only afford to send one member.
"People have bought the eldest son a ticket," Senator Evans said.
This week, Indonesian police stopped a boat as it was about to depart from West Timor to Australia. Among the 13 asylum-seekers detained was a nine-year-old and two 17-year-olds.
Other boats that have made it to Australia have also included minors.
Senator Evans said people-smugglers were changing tactics to avoid detection by police. This included moving asylum seekers quickly from Indonesia onto a boat headed for Australia
"They are people who have been put, if you like, on a fast track through third countries like Malaysia, brought in quickly to Indonesia," he said.
"Some of them have only been on a beach for a couple of hours before they get on a boat."
Senator Evans praised Indonesian police after the arrest this week of Haj Sakih, an alleged people-smuggling ringleader detained on Wednesday night. He also said the Australian Federal
Police assisted in the operation to detain Sakih, which has been running for months and has snared several other members of the syndicate while preventing 15 boats from coming to Australia.
Five boats have made it, including one with 35 suspected asylum seekers that was intercepted in Australian waters on Tuesday.
Sakih will face immigration, fraud and deception charges and could be sentenced to up to seven years in prison. He was found with $US24,000 ($37,240) in his possession.
Sakih was initially identified as Iranian but the head of national security in the Indonesian police, Brigadier General Badrodin Haiti, said yesterday he was a Pakistani.
Police sources said many of those arrested in Indonesia, and others who remain at large, have been involved in people-smuggling for as long as 10 years ago, when the first big waves of boat people came to Australia.
The Opposition blames a relaxing of the Howard government's punitive immigration policy for the latest influx. But Senator Evans has pointed to the deteriorating security situation in countries such as Afghanistan.
Immigration officials acknowledge that criminal syndicates are exploiting the changes as a "marketing opportunity".