Neighbour's unwelcome toss over the back fence
By Don Greenlees
The Weekend Australian
20 November 1999

Australia's northern neighbour has become the centre of an illegal trade in people, Don Greenlees reports

IT was an all-too-common transaction for McDonald's in Jakarta's Jalan Thamarin, almost as easy and open as ordering a hamburger. Hasan, who had been on a circuitous journey from Islamabad in Pakistan, had finally found the man and made the deal he had been searching for.

He handed over $US8000 ($12,500) and was told to wait in one of the cheap hotels nearby. Three days later, Hasan received a false Australian passport, his photograph glued under new laminate.

He had a Qantas airline ticket to Sydney and was at last set to try for a new life, six years after fleeing war-ravaged Afghanistan with his wife and three children.

Hasan, a medical professional, would not consider himself a criminal but he was joining an elaborate and fast-growing illegal trade in people run out of Australia's nearest northern neighbour. The networks, the bribed officials and, importantly, the customers are now so numerous that Australian authorities can do little to hold back the tide.

'More and more Indonesians are becoming part of the chain, whether it's individuals or officials. There is money to be made and as long as visas are issued by Indonesian embassies abroad, or are forged, the flow will keep going,' one Australian official said.

Hasan was one of the unlucky ones. On November 10, he and three other sheepish-looking Afghans tried to board their Qantas flight in Jakarta.

To the casual observer their forged passports would have looked convincing. But check-in staff, trained to pick up little irregularities, called Canberra and refused to let the men board.

Hasan is now in limbo. He has overstayed his Indonesian visa, does not plan on going back to Islamabad and is killing time at a small hotel in the mountains outside Jakarta.

Based on past experience, there is every chance he will eventually turn up in a boat off the West Australian coast.

The man who arranged Hasan's failed bid to enter Australia is known by Australian Immigration officials to have been very busy lately. An Afghan with Australian residency, he has a prosperous trade trying to put people in boats and on planes.

He has paid local police bribes of $US1000 to $US2000 to grease the wheels. When one batch got caught at Bali airport, police agreed to let them go after $1000 was paid for each one.

This network, serving mainly Afghans, is just one of a burgeoning group of people-smuggling organisations working in Indonesia with connections to police, immigration officials, local mayors and possibly even the governor of an eastern province.

Australian authorities have identified as many as seven or eight organisations working with varying degrees of co-operation and assistance from bureaucrats and police.

'In terms of a Mr Big, I think what we have here is a whole lot of Mr Mediums with their own contacts in the bureaucracy, from start to finish in the whole process,' one official said.

One man who comes as close to being a Mr Big as any in the Indonesian end of the trade is Aziz Abdul Syaid. He is a 32-year-old Indonesian, now living on the island of Flores.

By the standards of the island, he and his three wives can afford to live lavishly. He has probably made tens of thousands of dollars in recent times organising boats for the Jakarta frontmen.

The usual pattern is for people to pay in Jakarta, then travel on to Bali before catching a ferry to one of the eastern islands, where they board a fishing boat to Australia.

It makes Syaid a vital link in the chain and he protects his business very carefully. Officials believe he has contacts to senior government officials and police on the island, and his henchmen allegedly bashed two reporters from the local newspaper when they started making enquiries.

Syaid is believed to be behind the biggest of the boats to date -- the Adelong, which landed 352 people in October. In 1994, he spent four months of an eight-month sentence in a West Australian jail for people smuggling. He would be charged again if he returned.

But in Indonesia he has little to worry about from authorities. The names of the principals behind nearly all the organisations -- Afghans, Pakistanis, Turks and Iraqis -- have been passed by Australian officials to local counterparts.

So far, there have been few serious attempts to curb their activities. Some intended illegal entrants have been stopped. Yet they are often let go straight away. A group of 81 was detained in Sumbawa last Saturday but by Monday lunchtime they had been sent back to Bali and had scattered, free to try again.

Four months in jail

Name: Azis Abdul SYAID

Date of birth: 27.2.67

Azis Abdul Syaid, now aged 32, was jailed in the Northern Territory in 1994 for people smuggling.

Syaid was the captain of an Indonesian fishing vessel caught in waters off Wyndham in February 1994. His boat was carrying four Bangladeshi nationals and six Indonesian crew.

The Bangladeshi nationals told Australian Federal Police in Darwin that they had paid Syaid to bring them to Australia.

Police charged him with secretly bringing non-citizens into Australia, under section 81A of the Migration Act.

Syaid was sentenced to eight months imprisonment in March 1994 for people smuggling.

He served four months before returning to Indonesia.

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