Fishing crackdown drives poor to smuggling

Paul Osborne, AAP Senior Political Writer
Australia's hard line against Indonesian fishermen is driving them to try people smuggling.

Australia's hard line against Indonesian fishermen is driving them to try their hand at people smuggling, a new study suggests.

A high proportion of Indonesians sentenced to jail for people smuggling are fishermen from eastern Indonesia.

Monash University's Dr Antje Missbach found the fishermen have been affected by overfishing and pollution, but also Australian authorities' tough approach.

"If caught by the Australian authorities, boats and equipment on board are destroyed and the fishermen are arrested, prosecuted and imprisoned, often for many years," Dr Missbach says.

"This means that, upon return to Indonesia, they face massive debts and are thus inclined to take up more lucrative and risky jobs, such as transporting asylum seekers."

While there is no national database of cases, Dr Missbach has pieced together records from court houses across Indonesia to discover at least 99 people have been charged with people smuggling between May 2011 and October 2015.

However the prosecutions had done little to stem the problem, the policy paper for the Centre for Indonesian Law, Islam and Society said.

"On the contrary, the people-smuggling networks have not only been resilient enough to resist the law enforcement measures currently in place but also flexible enough to adapt to externally-driven conditions, such as fluctuating numbers of asylum seekers.

"The fact that operations are temporarily downscaled certainly does not mean people smuggling has been defeated in Indonesia."

While most were self-employed, the second highest cohort were fishermen.

Disturbingly, about 15 per cent were military or police officers - mostly of low rank.

"People-smuggling operations require support from physically strong and well-connected guarantors of security before the departure at sea," Dr Missbach wrote.

Most convicted offenders were Indonesian, but eight were of Australian, Pakistani, Afghani, Kuwaiti, Burmese, Iraqi, Sri Lankan or Iranian citizenship.

The eight foreigners were either recruiters or organisers, whereas the Indonesians were predominantly involved as transporters, facilitators and security providers.

Organisers and recruiters were "rarely identified, arrested or prosecuted", the research paper says.

Indonesian prosecutors told the researcher drivers received more leniency than others involved in the networks and would only be prosecuted if they were repeat offenders.

The court records also shed light on how much people smugglers were paid.

Ordinary crew members were offered between $328 and $547 (3 to 5 million Rp) per trip but were often only paid an instalment of this.

One captain said he was paid $2180 (20 million Rp) while another said he received $3282 (30 million Rp).

This compared to the $120 to $200 a month paid to the average fishing crew member.

The issue was not just one of migration or organised crime.

"It should also be viewed as an issue of human and labour rights, maybe even as moral issue, as the matters involved are becoming increasingly morally and legally complex," Dr Missbach concludes.