They come on one-way tickets, speak no Indonesian
As Labor and Coalition politicians wallow in a moral quagmire while failing to settle on the difficult issue of how to prevent boat people from risking their lives at sea, many people are asking: What is Indonesia is doing about it?
According to well-placed sources, about 300 displaced people or economic refugees arrive each week at Jakarta’s Soekarno Hatta International Airport. They come in on one-way tickets from places like Dubai, New Delhi and Kuala Lumpur and they carry fake travel documents.
They speak no Indonesian, they have no job to go to and they move straight from the airport to a half-way house run by one of a number of people-smuggling syndicates with close links to Indonesian officials. But most do have cash lots of cash.
From the crowded suburbs of Jakarta they are delivered to one of a number of small fishing ports along Java’s south coast where they board small, unsafe and overcrowded vessels for the perilous open sea journey to Christmas Island or Ashmore Reef.
These “fishing” boats crammed with human cargo sail right under the noses of Indonesian authorities and if the poor souls on board are lucky (about 700 have perished since 2007) they arrive in Australian waters, and into the welcoming arms of the Royal Australian Navy or Border Protection Command, a few days later.
Australia provides about $342 million a year in foreign aid funds to Indonesia, where more that 120 million people live below the poverty line. In addition, the Australian Federal Police spends tens of millions more training Indonesian police and liaising with Indonesian authorities on a range of issues, with people smuggling at the top of the list.
Meanwhile, Australia taxpayers fork out in excess of a billion dollars a year to house and process irregular ntsillegalnte arrivals after they land here.
Given the number of boats now sailing from Indonesia to Australia, it is fair to assume that some of this spending will come under close scrutiny given the state of the federal Budget and the Government’s obsession with achieving a surplus.
People smuggling is a growth industry in Indonesia and the AFP and their Indonesian National Police comrades appear powerless to stop it.
High-level corruption has been a fact of political life in Indonesia for decades. To his credit, the current President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has done more than any other leader to stem this dodgy tide, but when it comes to people smuggling the profits are potentially so great that even he has been unable to slow the insidious trade in human misery.
The fact that Jakarta refuses to sign the UN Refugee Convention does not help.
Julia Gillard’s Foreign Minister Bob Carr is aparently too busy trying to solve problems in the Middle East and Burma to address the most pressing foreign policy challenge facing his Government and the nation.
That is how to encourage Jakarta to take the boat people issue more seriously and to do something about it at the barrier inside Jakarta international airport or at the fishing ports along Java’s coastline.
Stopping people at the airport barrier is not difficult. Just ask an Australian tourist who arrives in Jakarta without proof of a return ticket and at least six months on their passport.
It is increasingly difficult for Australia to lecture Indonesia when our court system accepts the testimony of poor Indonesian fishermen that they were just “out fishing’’ with a boat full of Iranian “tourists’’ when they lost their way and stumbled upon Christmas Island. It was an Australian jury that found them not guilty.
We know what our politicians are doing about this terrible problem: nothing.
The flood of boat people out of Indonesia begs a simple question: why do Indonesian authorities refuse to stop the flow?
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