Feb 14, 2013

‘Every day I am dying here’: how asylum seekers turn to smugglers

Journalists Andrew Dodd and Christine Horn went to Indonesia to see how people smugglers operate. In part two of their investigation, the cost and complexity of the boat journey to Australia.

Australian politicians love talking about “smashing” the people smuggler business model. It is strange then that very few of us know how the business really works.


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17 thoughts on “‘Every day I am dying here’: how asylum seekers turn to smugglers

  1. JMNO

    An interesting book to read on this is ‘The People Smuggler’ by Robin de Crespigny about Ali Al Jenabi who fled Iraq and then set up as a ‘boat facilitator’ in Indonesia in order to get his family out of Iraq and to Australia. He was caught by the AFP in Bangkok, has spent time in Aussie prisons and I understand the Department of Immigration is still intending to deport him when Iraq is ‘safe’, despite the fact that the rest of his family is here. The book gives good insights into how boat travel is organised in Indonesia.

  2. shepherdmarilyn

    Thanks JMNO, I wonder what possesses the Crikey team to repeat what has been known for over a decade and pretend it is news.

    There have been documentaries, reports, investigations and books written about the facts in Indonesia going back to the children not thrown enquiry.

    It is perfectly legal for these people to pay whoever they can find to help them, why pretend otherwise and help criminalise seeking asylum.

  3. mattsui

    I wonder what possesses @shepherdmarilyn to repaetedly post pointless, critical comments that add nothing to the discussion.
    I for one have never heard detials like this before, nor read anything like it in any Australian media outlet. It’s not news, it’s information. Facts about the refugee situation and the business of people smuggling in Indonesia. Facts that more people should be aware of before demonising those who’s only crime is wanting to live in Australia.
    The real news here is that an Australian Government genuinely interesting in “stopping the boats” or “smashing the people sumgglers’ business model” should have been able to do so at little cost and with a small amount of assistance from Indonesia’s Government.

  4. Ross Storey

    If you are interested in learning more bout the business model of people smugglers, I recommend to you the book ‘The People Smuggler’ by Robin de Crespigny.
    So much of what is fed to the Australian public on this difficult issue is utter bull…t and political spinning to keep Australians in fear of ‘invading terrorists’ etc etc. Perhaps it is a forlorn hope, but more politicians should also read this book and desist from using ‘boat people’ as such a convenient election issue, when it is far more complex than that.

  5. Grover Jones

    Wonderful article. Thanks for clarifying the process for us.

  6. Tony Kevin

    I found these two articles interesting and factually valuable. They filled out what I know of how people smuggling operates in Indonesia, from my earlier research into SIEV X and Abu Quassey’s role in that, my more recent research, and from Robin de Crespigny’s excellent recent book. Two factual criticisms:

    1. People smugglers do not always take people’s phones away and it worries me whenever they do. There have been many cases of asylum seekers using phones to make distress calls from boats to Australian authorities or 999. These phonecalls have generated recoverable Australian official paper trails which provided crucial evidence of how promptly and efficiently – or not – our authorities responded to such distress calls, as they are obliged by international law and common decency to so respond to save any lives they know or susppect to be at risk at sea.

    2. It is not correct to claim that ‘countless’ people have died over the past few years. This is a myth propagated by people who want to frighten asylum seekers and thus stop the boats. Serious efforts are being made to count the deaths, which always generate relatives’ public expressions of concern. Using such conservative and reliable methods, we know that 860 people have certainly or peobably died in the past 4 calendar years, of whom 515 died in the nine months between Dec 2011 and August 2012 – a marked upsurge in the death rate that cannot be explained by statistical variability or by increased numbers of boats. Since Sept 2012 – while many boats have kept on coming – there have been just 35 deaths at sea. Which raises the question why as many as 515 people died in the preceding nine months, while Nauru legislation was being debated in Parliament.

    The best source of information on asylum-seeker deaths at sea are Marg Hutton on
    see especially her referenced table
    and myself,Tony Kevin, in my book ‘Reluctant Rescuers’ (self-published, July 2012), available in hard copy or on line from

    I agree that nothing – except perhaps another SIEV X – is going to stop the boats coming now. For the Hazara, there is no going back option.

    And it will get worse as the troop drawdown in Afghanistan leaves the Hazara there (and anyone who supported the Western military and political efforts there) at increasing risk of reprisals. Whoever becomes PM in September here is going to have a huge Afghan boat people problem. And any gross violations of their human rights
    (e.g., another SIEV X) will not go unnoticed or unquestioned.

    Tony Kevin, author of ‘A Certain Maritime Incident: the Sinking of SIEV X’ (Scribe, 2004) and ‘Reluctant Rescuers’ (2012)

  7. CML

    While I understand the predicament that potential asylum seekers are in, it is a very complex scenario and it is too simplistic to just say let everyone in.
    Those of us who try to look at the macro-social impact on the community – not in the immediate future, but say, 25 years down the track – only have to look at the experience in places like France to gauge what happens next. Let me say up front that I am personally not “fearful” of asylum seekers from anywhere, and I think this is the wrong attitude for the refugee advocates to take towards people who have the same outlook as myself.
    However, not wishing to speak for anyone else, I believe the cultural and religious backgrounds of many of our current refugees will, over time, lead to conflict amongst the “Anglo/European/Christian current citizens of Oz”, and the potential “Middle-eastern/Sub-continent/Moslem etc. new citizens”.
    Of course there should be more “tolerence/empathy” etc (on both sides), but human nature being what it is, and the strong desire of all people to preserve their own way of life, all I foresee is trouble in the future.
    Here in Adelaide, we have just had reported that new management at the Moslem College decreed that ALL female teachers must wear the hijab/head scarf (Moslem or not), otherwise they would be (and have now been) sacked. This requirement was not in the contracts of some non-Moslem teachers who have been at the school for years. What sort of message does that send to non-Moslems in our community? Sure you can say that non-Moslem teachers should “expect” such rules and regulations, but NOT after they have been employed under different conditions. And now with the new federal laws giving religious organisations the right to discriminate against their employees (an appalling situation), what hope for justice in these cases?
    IMHO these are the small and growing incidents which build up to full scale resentment of “the new other” which lead existing citizens to wonder whether they will ever integrate into our society, or expect us to change for them. I believe it will continue to be an on-going problem.
    The one question I would like answered is: Are all you refugee advocates prepared to put a cap on the number of asylum seeker/refugees, per year, we accept in Australia? And if not, how do you propose raising the billions of dollars a completely open door approach would cost?

  8. mattsui

    Who exactly has said, or where exactly have you heard/read the proposition “just let everyone in”?
    Can you provide at least one actual, verifiable example, please?
    This is whats commonly referred to as a straw man arguement. The refugee conventions and Australia’s commitment to them exist to help the very people this article describes. A cap exists. Recently, the current Government has very graciously raised it. The real question is how we fill our quota.
    Keeping people in gulags on Pacific islands is neither cost effective nor effective as a deterrant to boat journeys.

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