People smugglers in Indonesia are reportedly touting New Zealand as “an easier route” to asylum seekers to get around Australia’s tough deterrents for boat arrivals.
Secret audio recordings heard by Fairfax Media reveal smugglers are telling customers that New Zealand is now a better option and can be reached either in shipping containers or by air.
Until now, New Zealand has never had a mass arrival of asylum seekers.
Sources in Cisarua in West Java say about a dozen people smugglers remain active and are increasingly desperate in their search for customers. Most have given up trying to send people in wooden boats because of the Papua New Guinea and Nauru policies implemented by Australia’s hard line.
Shipping containers have been used often in the past to smuggle people, particularly into Europe. But in a number of cases, people have died by suffocation or dehydration on the way.
The revelation comes as Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison prepares for an official visit to Indonesia this week for bilateral talks with the Indonesian Co-ordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs, Djoko Suyanto.
Potential asylum seekers in Cisarua have confirmed that smugglers called Muzahair, Haji Ismail, Farhan and Muhammad Ali have all offered the container ship service to New Zealand for prices ranging between $US8000 ($9600) and $US14,000 a person.
They refer to the container ship as the “cruise ship” option.
One smuggler has promised that the passengers will spend only about nine hours sealed in the container before it is opened, allowing them to roam the deck.
“Many people in Cisarua have already given $3000 to the smuggler Farhan, plus $5000 to [a trusted third party money-keeper], and in one or three weeks, I think this ship will go,” an asylum seeker source said.
Fairfax Media has heard secretly-recorded audio of smuggler Ali saying that for $US9000 a person, he could send Afghan people by air from Jakarta to West Papua, then in a container to New Zealand.
“New Zealand is very clean . . . Everything is better than Australia, the only problem is just unemployment . . . New Zealand is a golden opportunity. You can take your mother, your brother, all of your family after proving they are in danger, too,” Ali is heard saying.
Smugglers are telling customers the immigration law in New Zealand is open and easy compared with Australia, and that they can achieve permanent residency after 45 days. But in anticipation of these problems, New Zealand recently toughened its immigration law to allow a court to order six months’ detention for people who come in a “mass arrival” of 30 or more. Asylum seekers need to wait three years and be reassessed before they can apply for permanent residency.
“People smugglers who are disseminating a message that it is easy to obtain permanent residence in New Zealand are wrong,” said a spokesman from the New Zealand embassy in Jakarta. “There has never been a mass arrival . . . the New Zealand Government is aware of the possibility and remains vigilant.”
Some smugglers are still trying to sell places on traditional-style boats, but the price has dropped dramatically.
One, Abdullah, has told people in Cisarua that he has 50 or 60 customers ready to sail to Australia. Another, Reza Kord, insists he will also send a boat by the end of the month. In a secretly recorded phone conversation, he insists to a man posing as an agent that “the way is open now” to Australia.
However, Kord has been recorded agreeing to send people for just $US2300, far below the $US6000 of just 12 months ago. He also insists it’s not his problem if people are then sent to Papua New Guinea or Nauru.
On the recording, Kord also spells out exactly how he would fly people to Australia for $US13,000, saying $11,000 of that is to pay corrupt Indonesian immigration officials at Jakarta airport.
“After takeoff they should go to the toilet and cut the passports up. After landing in the plane, he shouldn’t go to the line in immigration, he should hide himself, for example, in the toilet, for two or three hours, because three or four flights come and enter to Australia in that time,” Kord is recorded saying.
“After that he can reveal himself to immigration and claim refugee status. They’ll ask him which flight did you enter here? Where is your passport? If they find out which flight you have come here on, they can return you.”
Morrison said the Australian Government would “not comment on information or intelligence it might have received”.
– © Fairfax NZ News