AFP investigates people smuggling in Indonesia

AM Archive - Friday, 31 August 2001
Reporter: Philippa McDonald

LINDA MOTTRAM: The Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty has revealed that the AFP and Indonesian police have identified suspects they believe are behind people smuggling operations, which have seen thousands of people land on our shores.

Commissioner Keelty says Australian authorities are currently expanding special investigation teams, working in Indonesia, which is the main transit point for asylum seekers making their way here. Commissioner Keelty wouldn't comment specifically on the case of those aboard the MS Tampa, but he told Philippa McDonald that the crime fighting agency is hoping to extradite several people trafficking suspects, as soon as possible.

PHILIPPA McDONALD: Commissioner Keelty, do we really know who's behind these kinds of human trafficking operations?

MICK KEELTY: Our intelligence, and certainly the work that we've done with the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, DIMA, as well as our overseas post, does indicate that there are some similarities between some of the syndicates. And we've, in the last 12 months, made quite significant advances in identifying some of the syndicates involved in this.

PHILIPPA McDONALD: What about in Indonesia?

MICK KEELTY: Yes, there are a number of these located in Indonesia and what we've done in the last 12 months, has been able to engage the Indonesian National Police, who have a responsibility for trans-national crime investigations. What we've done with them is, we've set up five special investigations units around Indonesia and that's been successful in preventing almost 3,800 people coming here. In addition to that, we have warrants in existence for some suspects in Indonesia, and we're working with the Indonesians at the moment to try and see whether we can extradite those people back to Australia.

PHILIPPA McDONALD: Who are your suspects?

MICK KEELTY: Well it's not appropriate that I name names, because we may end up having prosecutions here in Australia with the strengthened laws that we've now got. The penalties are quite severe and I wouldn't want to be pre-emptive in who we might prosecute here.

PHILIPPA McDONALD: There has been some suggestion that Indonesia's military has been involved in some of these people smuggling operations. What do you say to that?

MICK KEELTY: I can't comment on that Philippa. But what I can tell you is, factually that in '99/2000, 73 of the 75 vessels that were stopped, carried 4,175 unlawful non citizens to Australia from Indonesia. In 2000/2001 51 of the 54 boats carried 4,141 unlawful citizens from Indonesia. So, and we're working well with the Indonesian authorities. Obviously we're there at the moment - in fact we've got a group of people in Jakarta trying to expand the five special investigations units out to seven - to see if we can do some more work.

We've obviously had an impact because we've displaced some of the people who've been coming here from West Java, and now starting to come from East Java. So the work that we've done with the Indonesian police in West Java is taking effect.

PHILIPPA McDONALD: How would you describe the scale and sophistication of the people smuggling operations you're trying to counter?

MICK KEELTY: This is a trade that's worth $11 billion a year. Many of the people who we describe as boat people have paid up to five thousand dollars US ahead to be on those boats. It is trans-national crime at its best.

If you compare it to bringing a boat out with heroin, say 100 kilos of heroin. One of the things that is common with the heroin trade is, that you need a market and you need a distribution below, once the heroin arrives in Australia. With the people smugglers of course, once they arrive in Australia they're basically taken care of by the authorities. So it reduces the risk, it reduces the overheads and these people are trading in misery.

LINDA MOTTRAM: Australian Federal Police Commissioner, Mick Keelty, speaking to Philippa McDonald.


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