INSIDE JOB - People traders among us, says top cop

By Mark Ludlow
Sunday Mail (QLD)
SUN 28 OCT 2001

RECENTLY-arrived asylum seekers in Australia are involved in people smuggling, the nation's top police officer has revealed.

Some refugees operated with Asian ringleaders from within Australia, federal police Commissioner Mick Keelty told The Sunday Mail.

He made the comments as reports came in that 200 asylum seekers had hijacked a boat heading for Australia.

Refugees turn to evil trade

Mr Keelty said police received an increasing number of reports of boat people who helped people smugglers in Asia.

Some asylum seekers, who had been granted visas or were awaiting processing in Australia, had become people smugglers themselves.

It is the first time the Australian Federal Police has publicly admitted asylum seekers inside Australia may be working with people smugglers overseas.

In other developments:

* THE man identified as the head of a people-smuggling ring that sent 353 people to their death on an overcrowded fishing boat last week denied any involvement. Egyptian-born Abu Quessai said: `These people knew what they were doing, they took their own risks.`

* TWO Indonesian policemen have been arrested in Sumatra over claims they herded asylum seekers on the rotting 19m wooden boat at gunpoint.

* FEDERAL police are angry that Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock might have blown the cover of two officers in Indonesia who have been tracking Quessai. They are upset Mr Ruddock's comments could endanger the lives of the Jakarta-based officers. [emphasis added]

The Indonesian navy has confirmed it rescued a crew member of the hijacked vessel, who claimed to be the captain, off Lombok on Friday. He said there was a mutiny and asylum seekers took control.

The hijacking emphasises the desperation of asylum seekers trying to reach Australia before the monsoon season makes the voyage too risky.

About 3000 more boat people are expected to head for Australia in the next few weeks.

The Australian navy is on alert for the boat, which is still in Indonesian waters. Mr Keelty said that because it took some asylum seekers two years to make it to Australia they knew how the lucrative smuggling system worked. `(And) once they're here they are continuing that activity and making contact with people smuggling syndicates overseas,` he said.

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