3500 set to enter illegally
The Age
Sunday 17 June 2001

Australian and overseas intelligence services have uncovered evidence of 3500 asylum seekers in Indonesia waiting for boats to smuggle them to Australia.

The potentially illegal immigrants - nearly as many as have arrived by boat in Australia over the past year - are scattered around ports in the archipelago.

Most are from the Middle East, and include Iranians, Iraqis and Palestinians, a government intelligence officer told The Sunday Age.

Their arrival would almost double the number of illegal migrants to arrive in Australia in the past 12 months, bringing the total to 7500.

"We think there are about 3500 people waiting in Indonesia to be moved," the officer said. "As soon as that number drops it is topped up again from the Middle East. As soon as a couple of boats leave, more people arrive."

Two boats with 471 people aboard arrived off north-western Australia this week, bringing the number of people arriving by boat to nearly 4000.

One vessel arrived off Christmas Island on Thursday night with five crew and 231 passengers, including nine women and three children.

The 235 people aboard a vessel that arrived at Ashmore Island on June 6 comprised 85 men, 70 women and 80 children.

More migrants have opted to make the risky journey with their families since Australia introduced temporary protection visas that do not enable refugees to bring out their families.

Last year the Australian Federal Police and the Department of Immigration set up a people-smuggling strike team, modelled on the AFP's successful mobile drug strike teams, to disrupt and dismantle the organised crime syndicates behind human trafficking.

The 14 Canberra-based officers have the funds and flexibility to travel within Australia and overseas to liaise and work with foreign agencies.

They are backed by police and immigration analysts and work closely with the AFP's 33 specialist liaison officers in 21 countries.

The smugglers' trade is highly profitable. They are believed to charge refugees $6000 to $10,000 to travel from Indonesia to Ashmore Reef, off Western Australia, or to Christmas Island.

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