[Stop-traffic] News/Conference: Canberra to host transnational people smuggling conference

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Subject: [Stop-traffic] News/Conference: Canberra to host transnational people smuggling conference
From: J Ballinger (jeffreyd@mindspring.com)
Date: Tue Nov 13 2001 - 22:43:34 EST


Channel NewsAsia [Singapore]
January 13, 2001

Canberra to host transnational people smuggling conference

    The issue of illegal immigration is a global phenomenon and for many
countries it is also a growing problem.

    Next week, Canberra will host a transnational people smuggling conference
for
the Asia Pacific region aimed at raising awareness of the increasingly
organised
crime and pooling intelligence information.

    In the first of a two-part series, we take a closer look at Australia's
fight
against illegal immigration which include toughening its laws and pushing for
greater international cooperation.

    The International Organisation for Migration estimates that some four
million
people attempt to migrate illegally each year as part of an industry worth
about US$10 million.

    And the figures keep rising.

    And in Australia, unauthorised arrivals jumped nearly 10-fold in the last
decade to just under 6,000 last year.

    The majority of illegal immigrants entering Australia now are from the
Middle
East and they are coming by boat from Indonesia.

    And what has federal police concerned is that these illegal voyages, which
used to be relatively overt and amateurish, have become highly lucrative
professional criminal operations.

    "There is no doubt that it's organised criminal activity and that's been
the
hallmark of organised transactional crime in the last 2 to 3 years. What we're
seeing here is a marketable commodity. The organised crime figures don't care
what commodity is being shipped across the world providing they get value for
dollar for shipping them. What we've seen is a move from drugs to people,
because there's money in people," said Mick Keelty, Deputy Commissioner,
Australian Federal Police.

    Organisers are reportedly charging anywhere from US$600 to US$2500 per
person
for a boat trip from Indonesia to Australia - more if the passage is from the
Middle East.

    The smugglers are also known to be getting more cunning, in some cases
using
escort boats to remove local crew members from the transporting vessel before
entering Australian waters.

    And if they are caught, the crew members left on board are often so young
they can only be dealt with as juveniles.

    To try to stem the problem now, Australian authorities have set aside some
US$8 million over the next four years for a special strike force to
investigate
and detect organised people smuggling.

    Illegal entry laws have also been toughened.

    Prior to July 1999, the maximum penalty for people smuggling was two years
imprisonment but now it is a maximum 20-year-jail sentence and/or a US$120,000
fine.

    "Those who are found not to be refugees can expect to be removed. But those
who are found to be refugees no longer get residency. They get no family
reunion
entitlements, they get no travel documents from Australia. By giving them
temporary entry permits for protection purposes, we've in effect withdrawn
many
of the concessions that were there before," said Philip Ruddock, Minister for
Immigration

    There is also a major push towards bilateral cooperation.

    Talks between Canberra and Beijing have already led to a dramatic fall in
illegal immigrant numbers from China.

    Now the focus is on Indonesia, the main jump off point for illegal
immigrants headed to Australia.

    Authorities know that with so much money involved, large scale people
smuggling is not going to be a passing phenomenon - the hope now is that
something critical is done at an international level before the situation
spirals out of control.

Jeff Ballinger
E- 502
75 Cambridge Pkwy.
Cambridge, MA 02142
617 496-6423


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