Mosman's accused people smuggler

By Matthew Moore in Jakarta and Robert Wainwright
November 27, 2003

A former Turkish asylum seeker who runs a Mosman kebab shop has been identified by a group of Turkish Kurds as the person who helped smuggle them to Melville Island earlier this month.

Ali Cetin, an Australian citizen who spent five months in the Port Hedland immigration detention centre, has admitted that on August 21 he was at Jakarta's Hotel Menteng 2, where people who were on the boat say they paid him a total of about $US20,000 ($28,000) to arrange their trip.

Some of the group now say the reason they wanted to get to Australia was for higher-paying jobs, not to flee Turkish Government persecution, as several had claimed.

Members of the group say they were encouraged to make the trip by Mr Cetin, who had told them how well his restaurant was doing and convinced them Australia was a land of riches where they could make $8000 a month.

Mr Cetin has admitted he was in two hotels in Indonesia in August and October where the Kurds, some from his home town, say they met him, but denies he is a people-smuggler or that he met them.

Instead, he insists his trips were coincidental and that he was on holiday to meet women. He met no other Turks and the only thing he did was hand out business cards.

"I wouldn't help people come here to Australia, it's too hard," he told the Herald yesterday.

The revelations about the failed attempt come as divisions have emerged in the group. Eight men now plan to stay in Indonesia, where they hope to get refugee status, while six plan to return home to their jobs and families in Turkey early next month.

Asim Bali, spokesman for the six planning to return home, said through an interpreter it was "not true" to say the group had suffered discrimination. All 14 had wanted to go to Australia for a better economic future.

He said relations between Turks and Kurds were now good. Although those who bought a passage on the boat had jobs in Turkey, and some owned businesses, all had hoped to make more money in Australia.

Ali Kazil, representing the eight hoping to stay in Indonesia, said this week that he and other members of the Kurdish population in Turkey had been persecuted and that was the reason for trying to reach Australia.

He refused to give details of the persecution, or provide the names or addresses of most of the group members in Turkey to verify the claims, saying this would lead to further harassment.

Mr Bali said he had a wife and two young daughters in Adiyaman, where most of the group came from.

Mr Cetin confirmed that he was also from Adiyaman, a mainly Kurdish city, and had arrived as an asylum seeker in December 1998 on a boat with 15 others. The Herald found him two days after getting his name from some of the 14 Kurds who are staying in a Jakarta youth hostel after being released from an immigration detention centre last weekend.

They had been held there since arriving in Jakarta after the Australian navy towed their boat back to Indonesia after Melville Island was excised from Australia's immigration zone.

They say they have yet to be interviewed by Australian or Indonesian police about who organised their trip.

The four Indonesian crew members were also allowed to return home without being questioned despite an anti-people smuggling agreement between Indonesia and Australia.

Members of the groups identified three Turks involved in the people-smuggling operations - Mustafa, living in Adiyaman; Mehmet, who lives in Jakarta and is believed to have spent time in Australia; and Mr Cetin.

Mr Bali said that after talking to Mr Cetin by phone when he was in Turkey in early August he had bought a plane ticket to Jakarta. He was picked up by Mehmet and driven to the Hotel Menteng. Like all the men, he had travelled on his original passport.

The passports were taken by Mehmet at the hotel, although they were later used for identification in other hotels where they stayed, he said.

Once at the Jakarta hotel, he paid $US3000 to Mr Cetin and $US4000 to Mehmet. Ten men had paid substantial sums to the pair, although some paid less.

Mr Bali says he spent a further $US2000 on the ticket from Istanbul and accommodation and other expenses during the two months waiting for the boat, as did others.

Four others on the Melville Island boat had arrived in Indonesia up to two years before the departure and had paid money to a fourth man, Ayup.

Hotel records confirm the accounts by Mr Bali, and staff recall him and Mehmet.

The guest register at the Hotel Menteng 2 shows that Mr Cetin booked in at 5am on August 22 and took four rooms. He admitted yesterday that he stayed in the hotel, but claimed he took only one room and did not meet the Kurds or receive any money from them.

Mr Cetin also admitted returning to Indonesia six weeks later and staying for 12 days in the Wisma Makassar Hotel in Sulawesi, the town from which the Kurds set sail for Australia in late October.

The hotel receptionist, Ms Ratna, said yesterday that Mr Cetin was one of a group of eight Turks who had stayed there together from October 2 to 14.

He did not provide his passport details but told the hotel he was from Adiyaman in Turkey, she said.

The group had claimed they were tourists travelling around Sulawesi and she was unaware that they were planning an attempt to reach Australia by boat.

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