Human trafficking and Indonesia
People fleeing from Afghanistan, Iran, and Iraq often pass through Indonesia as they try to reach Australia. It’s like people from Mexico and countries farther south crossing the border into the United States. They pay large sums to shady operators who promise to get them to Australia without legal permission.
The immigrants to North America often die in the desert, abandoned or lost. The immigrants to Australia often drown.
This is something I never knew about until I lived here in Indonesia and read/watched the local news.
My U.S. readers might not have a clear picture of how this could happen, so here’s a little geography lesson. Picture India on a map, and then, just to the northwest, past Pakistan, you’ll see Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan standing in a line from west to east. People can cross through Pakistan and India to reach points in Thailand or Malaysia. Thousands of miles of coastline run south, straight to Indonesia. Some of these refugees may even enter Indonesia legally on tourist visas — I don’t know.
Australia lies just south of Indonesia:
Indonesia is an archipelago, a nation consisting of more than 17,000 islands. There are lots and lots of boats, for fishing as well as for transport. Poverty is widespread and severe. So the traffickers — the people who take the immigrants’ money — can find plenty of willing boatmen who will risk taking illegal passengers. All you have to do is pay them.
Ose, 15, his 16-year-old cousin Ako and their 15-year-old friend John Ndollu were selling their catch at the local fish market in Kupang when they became unwittingly embroiled in a people smuggling ring.
“To tell you the absolute truth if I knew what was going to happen, I would have stayed here and kept fishing near my home. I was tricked,” says Ose.
Offered the equivalent of more than 10 years’ wages to work as cooks on a boat, the two cousins and their friend didn’t think twice about saying yes. Earning a monthly wage of Rp 25,000 (US$2.75), the prospect of a Rp 5 million [about US$550] paycheck was unbelievable. [source]
Those three boys, from an island in East Indonesia, spent one year in an Australian jail — charged as adults with people smuggling.
Late last year, a number of editorials contrasted the plight of an Australian teenager, held in a Bali jail, and that of many Indonesian teens who are held in Australian prisons for working on boats that brought illegal immigrants to Australia. The Australian boy admitted to having bought a small amount of marijuana while vacationing with his parents in Bali. Australian newspapers ran editorials expressing outrage that a minor might be sentenced to spend years in a foreign prison for such an offense.
Some refugees from various countries do stay in Indonesia — some even legally — but a large number have their hearts set on settling in Australia. So long as extreme poverty persists in Indonesia, it will be easy to find people who will risk carrying the immigrants across the sea.
As for the refugees themselves — can we blame them for wanting to escape from their war-ravaged or oppressive countries? The flow of people will not be stopped by throwing the smugglers into prisons.