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People smugglers get rich, Canberra reacts
by Staff Writers
Singapore (UPI) Sep 14, 2012


disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only

The kingpins of Asia's people smuggling racket have made millions of dollars smuggling everyone from farmers to terrorists, a report by the New Straits Times said.

One detained head of a smuggling operation, held since 2009, told the Times he had amassed more than $42 million over the years ferrying mainly Sri Lankans.

The smuggler, identified as "Tony," said the Sri Lankans' destination of choice was Christmas Island, an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean, in the hope they would be fast-tracked into Australian society.

However, this week Australia began shipping asylum seekers to detention camps in neighboring Papua New Guinea and the Micronesian republic of Nauru to ease overcrowding in centers such as Christmas Island.

The move by Australia's government in Canberra is to send a signal to asylum seekers that they won't be speedily processed and their perilous journey could be in vain, Australian media reported.

The New Straits Times interviewed the smugglers, including "Tony," in Malaysia's maximum security prison in Kamunting, near Taiping in the northwest peninsula state of Perak. Many of the prison's inmates are being held under Malaysia's Internal Security Act.

Well-organized smugglers also offer falsification of passports, travel documents and work permits for entry into Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, South Korea, Hong Kong, Japan and western Europe.

Most of the would-be asylum claimants pay $15,000-$25,000 for their journey in often unseaworthy vessels and their entry into Malaysia from where they board a boat sometimes has been aided by colluding immigration officials, the Times said.

Among those being smuggled have been members of the terrorist organization Jemaah Islamiyah from the Malaysian state of Sabah and Shiite Muslim Hazaras, who fought the Taliban in Afghanistan.

"When these people were smuggled in, they also brought in weapons and drugs," one smuggler told the Times. "A financial officer for one of the syndicates, when arrested, had more than $97,000 in the trunk of her car."

Another head of a smuggling setup said he had made enough money to pay more than $275,000 cash for a cargo ship for his illegal operation.

Many of the ships heading for Christmas Island founder along the way and the Australian navy and maritime patrols often rescue the passengers and crew.

All are headed to detention centers to await judgment on their claim for asylum, a process which can take several years.

This week the first batch of 90 asylum seekers will be flown to the South Pacific island of Nauru which has a population of just more than 9,000 and is under the protection of Australia, although it has been independent since 1968.

From 2001-08, Nauru accepted aid from Australia in exchange for housing a refugee center.

Also accepting Australia's asylum seekers is Papua New Guinea, which has a population of fewer than 7 million and lies off the northern tip of Australia. It has had close relations with Australia, which governed it until independence in 1975.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said Australia would send women and children to the centers as well as men because exemptions would be exploited by smugglers, Australian newspaper The Age reported.

''Under the act, everybody who arrives in Australia is eligible to be transferred to Nauru and Papua New Guinea,'' Bowen said.

''We cannot allow people smugglers to be out there saying: 'Look, if you send your children, we'll get them there and then they can be the anchor for you.'''

Prior the new arrangement, unaccompanied minors were often more quickly processed and allowed into Australia. But people smugglers exploited this, encouraging families to send minors who, once into Australia, would act as ''anchors'' and bring over family members, The Age said.

Nauruan Foreign Affairs Minister Kieren Keke, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. that Nauru was ''comfortable'' with the prospect of the asylum seekers spending up to five years there under the Australian government's ''no advantage'' protocols.

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