Prosecute people smugglers, but how?
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Prosecute people smugglers, but how?

Shipwrecks will not deter refugees or asylum seekers to take the boat to Australia. About 200 people are feared dead at sea 200km off Java Island of Indonesia when the overloaded boat they boarded sank on Saturday. Only three dozen survivors are so far accounted for, but do not rely on numbers which can be tweaked by government statisticians. These people reportedly come from Dubai and flew into Jakarta to be transported to Australia by boat.

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A survivor wails after rescue. (Photo by ABC)

Depending on which media you are reading, each person paid $500 each to Indonesian airport authorities and $6,000 each to board an Australian-bound boat. The Sydney Morning Herald’s Editorial wonders if the Indonesian authorities did not notice these Arab-looking people entering Jakarta without valid visas. Then all these desperate people queued at the port where they took a boat with a capacity of 100 people – there were more than 200 passengers.

The boat captain and crew members are said to be safe. Before the boat sank, they grabbed their life vests and swam away.

Australian media say this exemplifies another well-organised people smuggling operation, stirring further debate on Australia’s immigration policies.

This latest tragedy also coincides with the first anniversary of about 50 asylum seekers who were shipwrecked on the stormy waters off Australia’s Christmas Island. Two weeks ago, another boat tragedy took place nearby. It is a peak season for people smuggling and water currents are wild and treacherous to navigate.

A statistics from the Australian Parliament House shows that this year, 28 boats carrying 1,675 people have been intercepted on Australian waters (as of June). This is a significant decrease from 124 boats loading 6,879 people in 2010.

Earlier this year, the Julia Gillard Government approved the so-called Malaysian Solution, a policy to process asylum seekers offshore in exchange for the intake of genuine refugees. Gillard pinned hopes that this solution will stop people smuggling. The latest tragedy, however, proves she is wrong.

Time and again, boat tragedies tell stories of lost lives and broken dreams. News Limited reports an account from a survivor:

Esmat Adine, 24, a Hazara refugee from Afghanistan said he “tried to find a suitable and legal way” but after being told he wouldn’t be eligible for a student visa to Deakin University until 2013 – and fearing for his life – he fled to Jakarta.

“I was arrested by the Taliban last year and imprisoned for 16 days where they beat me and made me sleep on a dead body,” he said.

“I registered with UNHCR in Jakarta who said it could take one year but I have a wife and three-month-old daughter at home and this is the quickest way.

“We had to go so we decided to go the quickest way. There are many, many people. They are waiting in Jakarta, waiting for the boat. Most of them, they are sure they will get to Australia.

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Survivors are treated at a temporary shelter in Watulim, Indonesia. (Photo by AFP Getty)

Refugees and asylum seekers have nothing to lose and nowhere to go to. Adine was quoted further by News Ltd as saying, “If Australia does not accept our request now, we will do (it) again because we have nothing.”

If the inter-governmental solutions are not workable, can’t government bodies arrest and prosecute people’s smugglers?