Indonesian daily warns people-smuggling issue "could get more serious"
BBC Worldwide Monitoring
6 September 2001

Source: Text of report, entitled: "Illegal trips to Sand Island" published by Indonesian newspaper Kompas Cyber Media web site ( on 5 September

Indonesian daily warns people-smuggling issue "could get more serious"

no dateline -- The tip of the small island of Rote is indeed the closest part of Indonesia to Australia, particularly to Sand Island, the Rotinese people's name for Ashmore Reef in the Ashmore group of islands. Rotinese have been sailing for a long time to the 28 by 15 km atoll group and staying there to catch sea cucumber and shellfish.

With their sailing expertise, they cover 80 miles or 150 km on the Rote-Sand Island round trip. This is much less than the distance from Ashmore Reef to Darwin, which is about 840 km, or to Broome which is about 610 km. The Rote-Ashmore distance only takes one day and night by sailboat or motor boat.

This journey is one of the favourite choices of illegal immigrants.

According to Dan Dwyer in his book "Fishers of People", the first boat carrying migrants to Ashmore sailed in 1995. Since that time the route has become a regular choice for migrants from the Middle East and South Asia. That year, it was discovered that the first two boats were crewed by East Indonesian sailors, carrying 11 migrants from Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Since then, and probably up until the present, the flow of illegal immigrants through Rote-Ashmore has continued. This is very likely the case, as witnessed the special report in the Pos Kupang daily newspaper (28 July) following a visit by its reporter to Papaela hamlet, in East Rote sub-district, which revealed startling information on the various aspects of the Rote-Ashmore Reef crossing.

According to Pos Kupang sources, the trips to Sand Island/Ashmore are being facilitated by police officers. To assist the passage of these immigrants, who have so annoyed the Australian government, a schedule has been arranged by a person with the initial A, from Kupang. This person brings prospective immigrants from Bali, via East Nusa Tenggara NTT waters, paying 40m rupiah per boat to officials.

"This amount does not include payment to the boat owners. Each person must pay from 15 to 40m rupiah and once agreement on price is reached the boat owner sails to Sand Island/Ashmore", said a source, explaining that boats used to be chartered but now the groups of immigrant must buy them outright because, if they are subsequently caught by Australian officials, the latter will burn the boats and imprison the skipper.

On arrival at Ashmore reef, according to the Pos Kupang team, if there were no Australian officials present, syndicate members would arrange a connecting trip from the reef to the Australian mainland, still a considerable distance away. This is no surprise as in Kupang there is an Australian, KJE, who in the past was questioned for accommodating some 30 immigrants but escaped any sanction because he maintained that he was in fact working with police and immigration officials.

East Nusa Tenggara Provincial Deputy Police Chief Senior Commissioner Goris Mere in an interview with Pos Kupang said that, based on information on immigrants who had made it to Australia, NTT police had made a note of the identifying characteristics of official(s) involved in facilitating the people-smuggling along with other data. According to Mere, the official(s) extorted payment for permitting the immigrants to sail to Ashmore. Official(s) also engineered the apparent "escape" of immigrants from local detention.

Meanwhile, Kupang Immigration Office Head Gatot Suharyono said that if immigration officials were involved, they would not only be from East Nusa Tenggara, because this was simply the last transit point in the journey to Australia . "How could the immigrants move so easily from Jakarta through Bali and finally to NTT? Perhaps officials in those places also played a part -but not in Kupang. Prove it if you are claiming that Kupang immigration officials are involved. Also, the Australian government cannot just accuse Indonesia of being the source of illegal immigrants. Before they came to Indonesia, they passed through Singapore and Malaysia. Those two countries should also be blamed," he said (Pos Kupang, 30 July).

Given this state of affairs, mutual accusations and denials will become the norm. Meanwhile, Australia-bound illegal immigrants continue to come, via Christmas Island -reachable from the south coast of Java -or via the short trip from Rote to Sand Island/Ashmore Reef. Stay tuned - the issue could get more serious.


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