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From: Melanie Orhant (
Date: Mon Nov 22 1999 - 22:24:11 EST


Among the sprinkling of student backpackers from Australia, Japan and
Europe, the guest register at the Chandara Gardens Hotel, a dowdy flophouse
in Bali's capital, Denpasar, shows a curiously high number of Pakistani
visitors in recent months.
Located off Diponegoro Road, one of the city's main arteries, the mouldy
three-storey orange and white concrete hotel offers cheap lodgings at $6 a
night, plus another convenience: ferry tickets to Kupang and the eastern
outlying islands of this vast archipelago nation.
In the poky side streets around the Chandara Gardens lie more budget
billets and the odd restaurant specialising in cheap Middle East and
central Asian food.
Front office staff at the hotel nod quickly when asked if many Middle East
or central Asian visitors have stayed as guests lately. An English-language
brochure warning against people-smuggling is displayed on the front counter
and the question prompted a huddle of conversation.
"We have 26 Pakistani people from 10 November until 13," said the
receptionist, adding with a smile, "You've come to see the three
Pakistanis? They've gone to the police station - passport problem."
An official from the Australian embassy in Jakarta, accompanied by
Indonesian police, had come to the hotel two days previously asking similar
questions, she said.
One man of Middle East origin was observing my visit from a nearby hallway.
When asked what he was doing in Bali, he mumbled an unintelligible answer
and retreated quickly down a passageway as curious locals gathered around.
Bali is a household name to most Australians. Thousands make the annual
holiday pilgrimage here, attracted not so much by its unique Hindu culture
or a nostalgia for the art of Donald Friend, but more as an affordable
family getaway or, for young people, a party town with its fabled Kuta
Beach, vibrant bar scene, vast array of restaurants, ocean front hotels and
cheap shopping.
Now Bali's international airport and the island's proximity to Australia
has attracted a new type of visitor and a new type of business: it has
become a major transit point in the trafficking of illegal immigrants to
At the end of his sixth visit to Bali this year to investigate the scale of
the problem, the Australian embassy first secretary for immigration, Mr
Phil Richards, told The Age that what started as a trickle of people of
Middle East and central Asian origin trying to enter Australia illegally
was rapidly turning into a flood fuelled in part by unreal rumors of riches
to be earned from the Olympics.
One informed Australian source said the people-smuggling was controlled by
an "international mafia" - a cartel of criminals and corrupt Indonesian
Government officials.
The source said the names of leading organisers were known to the
Australian embassy in Jakarta and included Pakistanis, Afghans, Chinese,
Iraqis and Indonesians.
Under Indonesian law, there is no statute covering people-smuggling.
Indonesian laws against fraudulent travel documents for forged visas and
passports are frequently ignored in exchange for cash payments to corrupt
Mr Richards said in an interview in Bali that the trade in human cargo was
a multi-million-dollar industry, so lucrative that it now rivalled heroin
in terms of illicit profit but, unlike narcotics, came without the risk of
a life jail term or death sentence for traffickers.
"This is organised by people from source countries set up in Indonesia and
they've made themselves very, very rich very, very quickly," he said.
On 1 November an Indonesian ship, the Adelong, formerly the Harapa Satu,
slipped out of Bali and was intercepted by Australian authorities.
It was found to be carrying 352 illegal migrants who have paid a total of
$A3.5 million in a futile bid to reach Australia.
Most of the new boat people now trying to make landfall in Australia are
not from Vietnam, but Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Bangladesh, Pakistan,
Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and China, countries torn by civil war, economic
hardship or religious and ethnic persecution.
Many illegal immigrants have in turn been living for years in limbo in
neighboring countries and have been attracted to Australia by charitable
rules governing refugee asylum.
The cost for an illegal ticket to Australia is high, averaging between
$10,000 and $45,000 a person, depending on the level of documentation and
transport required. A false passport, usually procured in Bangkok, can cost
between $2000 and $4000.
"We are currently investigating several Australian citizens who have a
rather poor passport retention rate," Mr Richards said.
Other Australians suspected of having links to people-smuggling rackets
were also under scrutiny.
For the boat people, Bali is a stop-off point in a journey that usually
starts in Jakarta. Upon arriving by air, a payment is made to corrupt
immigration officials by a local fixer, usually in charge of a small group
of people seeking onward passage.
Close to the office of the UN refugee agency around the traffic-choked
Sarina shopping centre in downtown Jakarta, the McDonald's restaurant is a
favored location for organising further travel documents and ferry tickets
to Bali, a process that can take three days.
Once in Bali, the emigres are installed in cheap lodgings close to Benoa
Harbor, the main inter-island ferry terminal.
An economy-class ticket to Kupang in West Timor on the Pelni ferry
Dobonsolo, leaving on 24 November, will cost 99,500 rupiah or $A20. From
Kupang it is a short hop across to nearby Roti and a fishing boat trip to
Ashmore Reef, the maritime boundary between Australia and Indonesia lying
some 830kilometres off the north-west coast.
The journey takes about 10 hours, but, once ashore on Ashmore, the illegal
immigrants can claim asylum and are legally entitled to be taken to
Australia where their case can be heard.
Of serious concern to Australian Customs and immigration officials is the
trend for bigger boats capable of travelling further and carrying more
people, just like the case of the Adelong.
"The boats are getting more sophisticated, faster and bigger," said one
Australian official, who asked not to be named.
Estimates of the current number of illegal migrants in Bali wanting to come
to Australia range as high as 1000.
According to the Immigration Department, in the 10 years to 21 October this
year,, 4785 boat people have been caught trying to enter Australia, with
the trend increasing alarmingly.
Of this total, 784 people were granted refugee status, another 75 were
allowed to stay on humanitarian grounds and 52 people for other reasons.
Australia's annual refugee intake through normal processing is about 10,000
to 12,000 people.
To date most illegal migrants have come from mainland China and number
Sino-Vietnamese, many from Cambodia, run second with 1031, followed by Iraq
with 583.
No estimate is given about the number who may have reached Australian
shores undetected.
Copyright John Fairfax Holdings Limited 1999. Not available for
AGE (MELBOURNE) 20/11/1999 P6

Melanie Orhant

Stop-traffic is a facilitated, international electronic mailing list
dealing with human rights abuses associated with trafficking
in persons, with an emphasis on public health and trafficking
in persons for forced labor, including forced prostitution,
sweatshop labor, domestic service and some coercive mail
order bride arrangements.

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