News: Australia acts to choke off illegal migrants flood

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Subject: News: Australia acts to choke off illegal migrants flood
From: Melanie Orhant (morhant@igc.org)
Date: Mon Jun 28 1999 - 17:11:23 EDT


Australia acts to choke off illegal migrants flood
By CRAIG SKEHAN
The Sydney Morning Herald, June 17, 1999

Australia is targeting violent criminal gangs operating immigration rackets
out of Bangkok in an attempt to stem the growing number of foreigners
arriving illegally at Australian airports.

So far, it has been mainly clients, rather than syndicate bosses, who are
being caught.

"Bangkok is now the major transhipment point in the region for illegal
immigrants," an Australian Immigration officer said. "There has been a
proliferation of gangs moving into the people-smuggling business and the
speciality in Bangkok is fraudulent documentation."

Tour company and labour recruitment offices act as fronts for immigration
syndicates in foreign enclaves such as "Little Arabia" in Bangkok's
Sukhumvit district.

Australia has identified the area's once up-market but now down-at-heel
Grace Hotel as a major centre used by criminals involved in the racket.

The Grace has a malevolent atmosphere. "It makes my skincrawl," said one
long-time Australian resident. "You could easily end up with a cut throat
if you cross the wrong people down there."

Prostitutes chat in the perpetual half-light and shady characters buy and
sell passports or refer people to criminal associates in return for a
commission.

Wander into the Grace Hotel, day or night, and chances are there will be a
gaggle of well-dressed men with mobile phones propped up against the bar.

Ask the bar girls what these men do for a living and a common response is
that it is dangerous to talk about such things.

The same men can often be found exchanging paperwork at a nearby Pakistani
restaurant.

They are members of a syndicate which specialises in fake documentation for
mainly Middle Eastern and African nationals.

Australian Federal Police are investigating overlaps between immigration
fraud, drug-running and prostitution rings.

And Thai investigators are examining links between immigration fraud and an
Egyptian tour guide arrested in connection with the murders of six
foreigners since last August.

Bangkok-based Australian Immigration officials point to a number of arrests
at Bangkok Airport since the cracking of an Iraqi syndicate in March which
led to arrests in Australia.

However, insiders say that official corruption in Thailand is hampering
their efforts.

Statistics show the number of foreigners arriving in Australia illegally by
air, mainly Sydney and Melbourne, is accelerating.

In the nine months to February, 1,397 people were denied entry at
Australian airports, more than three times the number four years ago.

"Who knows how many coming in by air are getting through immigration
checks, given the scale of forgery involved," the Opposition immigration
spokesman, Mr Con Sciacca, told the Herald. He complained that the inquiry
announced by the Prime Minister was limited to boat arrivals, despite
evidence showing that the problem of air arrivals was even more serious.

The Government says it is moving to tackle illegal air arrivals by
stationing immigration officers at key overseas airports - including
Bangkok, Beijing and Guangzhou - as well as beefing up intelligence.

But the Opposition wants the Government to negotiate with Thai authorities
for approval to conduct undercover operations in Bangkok.

Sources said that an average of three Australian passports disappear each
day in Thailand. While some are stolen, others are sold by Australian
travellers in need of cash. The going rate is said to be $700.

Scams include the discarding of passports with fake Australian visas once
Thai immigration has been cleared. Another centres on an immigration agent
with a visa for Australia checking in for a flight, then swapping boarding
passes with a client. Substitution of passport photos is another rort.

Some syndicates kidnap their own customers, many from China, and torture
and kill them unless their families pay ransoms for their release.


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