Pipeline for illegals choked off
By Don Greenlees, Megan Saunders
The Weekend Australian
27 April 2002

THE pipeline channelling asylum-seekers into Indonesia for their dangerous journey to Australian waters has been effectively blocked by a combination of international co-operation, safety fears and the deterrent effect of the Pacific Solution.

An investigation by The Weekend Australian has found three of the six principal agents in the illegal people-smuggling trade have been put out of business, while the others are 'keeping a pretty low profile'.

Although Australian authorities believe there remains a threat of boatpeople arriving on the mainland in late winter and early spring, they are convinced the exodus from Iraq and Afghanistan has been all but halted.

The investigation found Australia will almost certainly have to extend its financial aid to Nauru and Papua New Guinea, which is holding detained asylum-seekers on Manus Island, beyond the planned cut-off date of May 31 because most detainees will not have been processed by that time.

There is growing dissent on Nauru about the island nation's involvement in the detention scheme and the worth of Australian financial aid.

The Weekend Australian has established that Australia will have to take at least half the Iraqi asylum-seekers held on Nauru because they have been found to have family links in Australia. Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock is in Europe lobbying for support for the Pacific Solution, which the Howard Government forged after the failure of naval attempts to turn back asylum- seekers.

Australia's prospects of winning support have been boosted by discussions with the US, which Canberra hopes will produce an offer to relocate some boatpeople.

More than 1000 detainees were taken into custody under the Pacific Solution, while a further 500 are being processed by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. About 1150 asylum-seekers are still being held on Nauru and 356 are waiting on Manus Island. The slowdown in illegal arrivals is illustrated by activity at the UNHCR office in Jakarta, where the number of asylum-seekers has dropped from an average 200 a month last year to 20 in April. Diplomats and police say it is premature to claim victory against the people-smugglers but there are significant holes in their networks. Two accused are in custody in Bangkok. One, Ali Jenabi, was arrested for passport fraud last week and faces extradition to Australia, as does Hasan Ayoub, who was arrested late last year.

Two more are being held in Jakarta and another in Perth. Three important people-smugglers are still at large but seem not to be operating now.

'The smugglers are keeping a pretty low profile,' said Richard Danziger of the International Office of Migration in Jakarta. 'A few months ago they were around the place and we would know where such-and-such a smuggler was. Now we don't hear about them.'

Government sources say the flow of people into Indonesia from the Middle East has been reduced to 'a trickle'. But there are up to 3000 asylum-seekers in Indonesia and another 1000 people across other parts of the region such as Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore.

Authorities believe many will try to travel to Australia later this year.

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