NEWS:Australian People Smuggling Growing

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Subject: NEWS:Australian People Smuggling Growing
From: Jyothi Kanics (jkanics@igc.org)
Date: Mon Apr 26 1999 - 12:32:15 EDT


Tuesday April 13 2:30 AM ET

Australian People Smuggling Growing

By ROHAN SULLIVAN Associated Press Writer

SYDNEY, Australia (AP) - In China, they're known as Snake Heads. They're a
new breed of
organized criminal who lure victims with promises of wealth and opportunity
in foreign lands.

But usually the dream turns into a nightmare. Independent organizations say
many illegal immigrants
are forced into prostitution and virtual slavery by the crime rings that
promised them prosperity.

The people-smuggling trade is booming, according to the Geneva-based
International Organization
for Migration. Economic despair and fear of violence in eastern Europe
since the breakup of the
former Soviet Union have caused many people to leave. There are similar
concerns about Southeast
Asia.

Australian Federal Police say drug traffickers are also getting involved in
people-moving racket.

``In some cases, the money's just as attractive at Australian dollars
40,000 ($25,000) a head,'' said
Mick Keelty, general manager of national operations.

Authorities say the most established trade routes are through Amman,
Jordan, and Bangkok,
Thailand. People pay up to tens of thousands of dollars each and follow a
complex and dangerous
route.

When New York state police pulled over a van crossing the Canadian border
in December, they
found illegal Chinese immigrants stacked inside like lumber. Recent
arrivals in Australia have been
crammed aboard leaky, rusting hulks to make long sea journeys in appalling
conditions.

Australian authorities today were still searching for the last of a
boatload of people who landed
undetected on the east coast 250 miles north of Sydney at the weekend.
Sixty people have so far
been caught, police said.

The surprise discovery of the rusty 40-foot boat on a popular east coast
tourist beach was the third
time since Christmas a boatload of Chinese has slipped through Australia's
coastal security and
landed undetected. In three trips, 137 Chinese have landed in Australia.
Most have been sent back.

The only island continent, Australia's coastline is 23,000 miles long.
Although the majority of the
nation's 19 million people live along the coast, most pack the southeastern
shores. The northwest is
virtually unpopulated, making it an easy landing site.

The Navy on Monday picked up another boat off the northwest coast, carrying
10 people believed
to trying to reach Australia.

Saturday's boat traveled some 1,600 miles along Australia's most populated
coastline and the
passengers were only noticed when they began appearing in peoples' backyards.

The coast is guarded by just a handful of Navy and Customs ships and planes.

J.S. Olesen, chief of mission in Australia and New Zealand for the
non-governmental International
Organization for Migrants, said many people borrow money from China's
notorious ``Triads'' and
other organized crime gangs to escape their homeland. The gangs then force
them into prostitution,
crime or put them to work in sweatshops.

``It is so well organized in receiving countries that people are being
virtually held in prisons,'' Olesen
said. ``It is the old story of women being forced into prostitution.''

A boatload who were caught near the resort town of Cairns last month were
promised jobs for the
Sydney Olympics as part of the racket, Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock
said.

Ruddock claims only four boats have been able to land undetected in recent
years, and that all those
on board were found later. But no one knows how many boats and people may
have completely
escaped detection.

The government says that since July 1, 21 boats have arrived in Australia
carrying 279 people, 170
of whom were Chinese. In the past decade, 3,380 people have arrived by
boat. Last year, most of
those caught came from Bangladesh, Turkey and Sri Lanka.

Ruddock said cooperation from the Chinese government has stopped some
people-smuggling boats
from leaving, and the detention and swift return of illegal arrivals was
the best deterrent.

But after the most recent landing, state and opposition leaders have called
on Prime Minister John
Howard to boost the defense forces' capability to protect the coast.


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