The Legal Loopholes of Refugee Smuggling
Tempo Magazine
No. 10/II/November 13 - 19, 2001
Special Report

Indonesia is currently burdened with an incoming tidal wave of refugees. Her political and legal framework is being challenged to find a solution to the problem.

The hopes of Haydr Hadi sunk mid-journey. Haydr, an Iraqi national, aged 28, failed to reach his dream destination of Australia. The boat Haydr boarded to-gether with 417 other refugees, mostly from the Middle East and Central Asia, tragically sunk in the Sunda Strait three weeks ago. The boat was headed for Christmas Island, Australia, after departing from Bakauheni port in Lampung.

Now, all that's left for Haydr is to contemplate his fate. "My savings of US$720 and family photos disappeared together with over 360 people, who are still missing," said Haydr, at the Indonesian Christian University Hospital in Jakarta, last week.

Prior to the tragedy, Haydr had already undergone a grueling enough journey. He initially left Khuzestan in Iraq for Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. There, Hadyr and several other refugees stayed in a hotel. Haydr and his colleagues were informed that for US$490, they would be taken to Indonesia. After reaching Cisarua, West Java, they were told that for another US$600, they would be taken to Christmas Island.

From Cisarua, the 417 Afghani, Iraqi, Iranian and Pakistani refugees were taken by bus to Port Merak under escort by Chief Brigadier Agus Sapuan from the Lembang Police in West Java. From there, they crossed into Lampung and stayed for two days in the Hotel Amarta Agung, in South Lampung. From Lampung, the group boarded a wooden boat, which tragically sank mid-journey. Haydr was among the 44 who survived.

Indonesian police commenced immediate investigations into the incident. Two Sundays ago in Bandung, after preliminary investigations, police detained a Turkish national named Abu Quassey, aka Centin Kaya Nagun, 36. According to the head of public relations at the Indonesian National Police Headquarters, Brigadier General Salef Saaf, both Indonesian and Australian police have been hunting Quassey for a long time. Quassey is suspected of smuggling refugees into Australia, and smuggling refugees onto the ill-omened ship. Police officers Agus and Johan were also arrested on charges of aiding and abetting the smuggling of illegal immigrants. Police are still searching for two other suspects connected to the case.

Based on the questioning of Quassey, the police have concluded the existence of a smuggling syndicate. Unfortunately, Quassey was unwilling to name any members of the syndicate. However, police claim to have this information, although they refrained from disclosing any names. "If we disclose names, they will escape," explained Saleh Saaf.

Quassey has been charged with violating Articles 53 and 54 of Law No.9 of 1992 on Immigration, for harboring illegal immigrants in Indonesia. He now faces six years imprisonment and Rp30 million in fines. Quassey, already blacklisted from Indonesia, entered under a false identity by posing as an Indonesian citizen. Another suspect, Muhammad Yusuf, is also in police custody at Singkawang, West Kalimantan, on similar charges.

According to Minister of Justice & Human Rights, Yusril Ihza Mahendra, the problem of illegal immigrants in Indonesia cannot only be solved by investigating Mafia-run refugee smuggling syndicates. According to Yusril, the refugee problem contains international elements, in particular, involving the countries from which the refugees originated and their intended destinations, such as Australia. "So, Australia cannot merely blame Indonesia," said Yusril. Although Indonesia is flooded by the onslaught of refugees, Indonesia is only a transit destination.

Yusril suggests several reasons for the increasing wave of incoming refugees. According to him, the wave of refugees arriving from Iraq is due to the blockade imposed on Iraq following its invasion of Kuwait. Furthermore, according to Yusril, the number of refugees arriving from Afghanistan has increased since the US commenced its strikes on Afghanistan.

Yusril also suggests that another contributing factor is the fact that Australian factories are currently facing manpower problems. According to him, "Australian citizens now only want to work four days a week. The immigrants fill in for the remaining holidays".

In view of these factors, the minister suggests that Indonesia has suffered the negative impact of the situation. As a transit country, she has been forced to harbor the refugees.

The UNCHR only has recognized 438 of the 1,664 illegal immigrants entering Indonesia, as refugees. The rest are believed to comprise seekers of political asylum and have allegedly been quarantined but not detained by Indonesian authorities, since they haven't committed any crimes.

Meanwhile Australia, Canada and New Zealand, are increasingly becoming the dream destinations of numerous refugees. TEMPO met with one Pakistani named Daud, in Peshawar, Pakistan. The 31-year-old Daud claimed he would willingly pay 1.5 million rupees (approximately Rp250 million) to be taken to Australia. "I am currently saving up money to leave for Australia. In Pakistan, our life is difficult and hopeless," said Daud, a father of two, who works for an education-related NGO in Pakistan.

Ahmad Taufik, Darmawan Sepriyossa and Edy, Budiyarso.


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