Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Spring Fund Drive: Keep CounterPunch Afloat
CounterPunch is a lifeboat of sanity in today’s turbulent political seas. Please make a tax-deductible donation and help us continue to fight Trump and his enablers on both sides of the aisle. Every dollar counts!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Paying the People Smugglers

“All of the available evidence points to Australian officials having committed a transnational crime by, in effect, directing a people-smuggling operation, paying a boat crew and then instructing them on exactly what to do and where to land in Indonesia.”

Anna Shea, refugee researcher at Amnesty International, Oct 28, 2015

It surfaced back in June as a nasty reminder about how Canberra’s officials have been disposed to the issue known as the “refugee problem”. It came in the form of a refusal on the part of then Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, to rule out a policy whereby people smugglers would be paid to “turn back boats”. In his own typically chosen words, he was determined that such vessels be turned back “by hook or by crook”. Anything, in other words, would go.

Nothing can get away from the fact that markets to move people find form when regulations restricting movement exist. As borders tighten, the market for people smugglers improves. A huge industry, in fact, has grown up around the premise. The paradox of such a market is that each tougher regulation, each razor fence, and each restriction, is met by new options, new routes, and new promises of plenty. Call those who traffic or facilitate the movement of migrants people smugglers or traffickers – they are, in all senses of the term, fulfilling an entrepreneurial wish at the behest of a broader desire.

Breaking the business model, as the Canberra political establishment terms it, has been central to its approach to turning back asylum seeker boats, and generally dissuading individuals from arriving in Australia by sea. Penalties for such facilitators are repeatedly promised, and the Australian court system has found prosecuting those in the lower rungs of the system. (The big fish, of course, never get caught.)

The general approach behind pushing back such vessels, however, is not only questionable in its rationale. It has proven to be fundamentally discredited in practice. The refugee industry seems to corrupt all who engage it, and not even sanctimonious officers charged with the cause of protecting borders are exempt. Australian tax payers, it would seem, are also footing the bill for the people smugglers. The consequence of this is not to break any business model so much as to enhance it.

This grotesque realisation has been given credibility by Amnesty International, whose latest examination suggests that Australia’s “maritime border control operations now resemble a lawless venture with evidence of criminal activity, pay-offs to boat crews and abusive treatment of women, men and children seeking asylum.”[1]

By hook or by crook is one of those grizzly confirmations.[2] In May 2015, Australian officials engaged in the highly secretive Operation Sovereign Borders, paid six crew who had been responsible for taking 65 people from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Myanmar seeking asylum in New Zealand. The boat had been intercepted both on May 17 and May 22, the first time to issue the standard government line that the passengers could never be processed on Australian soil; the second to facilitate relocation, during which time the passenger were detained.

On May 31, the transactions took place. The amount that was paid amounted to $US32,000 to change course and direct them to Indonesia instead. Indonesian authorities, who eventually apprehended the smugglers in question, confirmed the amount.

Witness testimonies and video footage suggest that Australian officials effectively placed asylum seekers in danger by removing them from the vessel and placing them on boats with insufficient fuel. The original carrying vessel, contrary to Australian reports, was not in distress. (Remember: Operation Sovereign Borders, so goes the official line, is ostensibly in place to save lives.)

Furthermore, the evidence suggests that those same officials offered advice tantamount to running the transfer operation, providing the smuggling crew with instructions on getting to Rote Island in Indonesia with a complement of landing sites marked on rudimentary maps.

In July 2015, another incident of possible payment to people smugglers by Australian officials took place. This incident is even more dire given its virtual absence from media coverage. Amnesty International was told by the passengers that the boat was intercepted by the Australian Navy and Border Force on July 25 and placed on a new vessel on August 1.

The report draws attention to an assortment of internationals instruments those enforcing Operation Sovereign Borders have breached. The most obvious ones stem from the Refugee Convention, notably in terms of the right to have claims to asylum processed, irrespective of the mode of arrival, and the salient principle of non-refoulement.

There are, however, two other documents that have been brazenly ignored. These are the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, which outlines signatory obligations to cooperate in preventing and combating transnational organised crime, and the Protocol Against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air.

In the Smuggling Protocol, signatories undertake to criminalise the smuggling of migrants. The action of the Australian authorities certainly comes within the definition of smuggling, deemed “the procurement, in order to obtain, directly or indirectly, a financial or other material benefit, of the illegal entry of a person into a State Party of which the person is not a national or permanent resident.” The smuggling crew members certainly attest to that, with their reward of $32,000.

The business of refugees is business. Human rights tend to be unnecessary intrusions, distinguishing living subjects from the business model people smugglers and Australian policy makers have seemingly nurtured. This “evil trade”, as Abbott liked to call it, continues to reap rich rewards.

Notes.

[1] https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2015/10/australia-damning-evidence-of-officials-involvement-in-transnational-crime-uncovered/

[2] https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/ASA12/2576/2015/en/

More articles by:

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

Weekend Edition
May 18, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
The Donald, Vlad, and Bibi
Robert Fisk
How Long Will We Pretend Palestinians Aren’t People?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Wild at Heart: Keeping Up With Margie Kidder
Roger Harris
Venezuela on the Eve of Presidential Elections: The US Empire Isn’t Sitting by Idly
Michael Slager
Criminalizing Victims: the Fate of Honduran Refugees 
John Laforge
Don’t Call It an Explosion: Gaseous Ignition Events with Radioactive Waste
Carlo Filice
The First “Fake News” Story (or, What the Serpent Would Have Said)
Dave Lindorff
Israel Crosses a Line as IDF Snipers Murder Unarmed Protesters in the Ghetto of Gaza
Gary Leupp
The McCain Cult
Robert Fantina
What’s Wrong With the United States?
Jill Richardson
The Lesson I Learned Growing Up Jewish
David Orenstein
A Call to Secular Humanist Resistance
W. T. Whitney
The U.S. Role in Removing a Revolutionary and in Restoring War to Colombia
Rev. William Alberts
The Danger of Praying Truth to Power
Alan Macleod
A Primer on the Venezuelan Elections
John W. Whitehead
The Age of Petty Tyrannies
Franklin Lamb
Have Recent Events Sounded the Death Knell for Iran’s Regional Project?
Brian Saady
How the “Cocaine Mitch” Saga Deflected the Spotlight on Corruption
David Swanson
Tim Kaine’s War Scam Hits a Speed Bump
Norah Vawter
Pipeline Outrage is a Human Issue, Not a Political Issue
Mel Gurtov
Who’s to Blame If the US-North Korea Summit Isn’t Held?
Patrick Bobilin
When Outrage is Capital
Jessicah Pierre
The Moral Revolution America Needs
Binoy Kampmark
Big Dead Place: Remembering Antarctica
John Carroll Md
What Does It Mean to be a Physician Advocate in Haiti?
George Ochenski
Saving Sage Grouse: Another Collaborative Failure
Sam Husseini
To the US Government, Israel is, Again, Totally Off The Hook
Brian Wakamo
Sick of Shady Banks? Get a Loan from the Post Office!
Colin Todhunter
Dangerous Liaison: Industrial Agriculture and the Reductionist Mindset
Ralph Nader
Trump: Making America Dread Again
George Capaccio
Bloody Monday, Every Day of the Week
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Swing Status, Be Gone
Samantha Krop
Questioning Our Declaration on Human Rights
Morna McDermott
Classrooms, Not Computers: Stop Educating for Profit
Patrick Walker
Today’s Poor People’s Campaign: Too Important Not to Criticize
Julia Stein
Wrestling With Zionism
Clark T. Scott
The Exceptional President
Barry Barnett
The Family of Nations Needs to Stand Up to the US  
Robert Koehler
Two Prongs of a Pitchfork
Bruce Raynor
In an Age of Fake News, Journalists Should be Activists for Truth
Max Parry
The U.S. Won’t Say ‘Genocide’ But Cares About Armenian Democracy?
William Gudal
The History of Israel on One Page
Robert Jensen
Neither cis nor TERF
Louis Proyect
Faith or Action in a World Hurtling Toward Oblivion?
David Yearsley
The Ubiquitous Mr. Desplat
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail