Illegals stuck in Indonesia
The Straits Times
2 September 2001
Marianne Kearney - Straits Times Indonesia Bureau

They paid thousands to be smuggled into Australia. But they were swindled. Running out of cash, they wait for the smuggler who brought them to Jakarta, not knowing that he has been jailed

BOGOR - Mr Karim Mafood arrived in Indonesia from Pakistan two months ago with his family, but still has no idea which part of Indonesia they are in.

The 30-something Afghan would-be asylum seeker claims that a man he knew as 'Haji Mohammad' flew him, his wife and three children from Karachi to Jakarta for US$4,500 (S$7,870) each, brought them to this cool mountainside town outside Jakarta, set them up in a small two-bedroom sparsely-furnished house for an exorbitant rent and then vanished.

Now, textile merchant Karim, his family and two brothers, none of whom speaks Bahasa Indonesia or English, are stranded in Bogor with just a few hundred thousand rupiah left, having little hope of ever being put on a boat to Australia or ever seeing 'Haji Mohammad' again.

Mr Karim is a victim of one Hasan Ayoub alias Haji Mohammad, says Mr Falal, an Iraqi refugee, who has heard of Hasan's tactics and numerous broken promises.

There are around 40-odd Afghans living in this neighbourhood, and many are running out of money.

Many of them are still waiting for Hasan to take them to Australia.

According to the Australian police, Hasan - a Pakistani who is fluent in English, Indonesian, Arabic and Farsi, the language of Afghanistan - is one of the region's most prolific smugglers who together control a multi-million-dollar business.

One of Hasan's associates is reported to have made A$25 million (S$23.6 million) from moving 2,000 potential refugees to Australia on dingy fishing boats.

About six weeks ago, Hasan's luck ran out. He was picked up by the police and thrown in jail.

But none of the other 40 Afghan refugees, who were smuggled in with Mr Karim and stationed in this village, heard any of this.

Each day they sit in rented houses, waiting for his return.

Mr Karim says that his smugglers in Kabul promised him a direct flight to Australia, but then he found himself in Jakarta instead of Sydney or Melbourne.

Smugglers forge passports for travellers such as Mr Karim in Karachi, usually after taking them over the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

But once they reach Jakarta, their passports and travel documents are confiscated.

Mr Karim, from the western district of Afghanistan, is a member of the Shia Muslim community, which the Taleban persecutes.

And like many of the Afghans from his ethnic group, he supports the United Front, which recently captured territory from the ruling Taleban.

'We leave Kabul because the Taleban is the enemy, we are Shia and they are Sunni,' he said in Arabic.

Mr Karim's brother, Alidad, says he was jailed for almost four years for visiting the grave of a famous Shia leader.

Some high-profile lobbying by the United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees and some international television coverage persuaded the Taleban to release Mr Alidad, after which he fled.

Mr Karim was not particular about where he ended up; he just wanted a better life for his family.

'I just want higher education for my children and for them not be kicked out of school. For myself and my wife, we want to be free to just live quietly,' he says.

One young asylum seeker, 20-year-old Machmud from Kabul, says he heard it will take only three months, not two years, for his papers to be processed once he reaches Australia.

He says his family begged and borrowed US$5,000 to send him here because his brother had been imprisoned by the Taleban and he was next on their list.

Despite the news that many of the boats are sinking or being stopped, Mr Machmud says he still wants to try for Australia, with Hasan or with any other smuggler that comes along.


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