Australia Warns People Smugglers Always On Lookout For New Marketing Message

Australia Warns People Smugglers Always On Lookout For New Marketing Message
Australian Border Protection Minister Peter Dutton, left, and Air Vice-Marshal Stephen Osborne, commander of Operation Sovereign Borders, address reporters at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, on Monday, May 7, 2018. (AP Photo/Rod McGuirk)

CANBERRA, Australia—A shipping freighter carrying more than 130 Sri Lankans, believed to be heading for New Zealand and Australia, was intercepted last Tuesday when Malaysian authorities halted the modified tanker off the coast of southern Johor state.

Malaysian police chief Mohamad Fuzi Harun said in a statement the group included 98 men, 24 women, four boys and five girls.

Australian Border Protection Minister Peter Dutton on Monday credited those who stopped the boat for doing great work in disrupting “a very sophisticated operation” to bring people to either New Zealand or Australia.

Dutton said that while he did not want to blame New Zealand for the most recent boat intercept, he did warn anyone talking about asylum seeker immigration policy to be “careful and circumspect about what it is that they’re saying,” perhaps directing his comments to New Zealand’s new Labor Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who offered to take 150 refugees from Australia’s offshore detention centre since taking office.

Because of Australia’s proximity and close ties with New Zealand, travellers who arrive in New Zealand immediately qualify for an Australian visa, prompting concerns that people smugglers would market New Zealand as a destination for asylum seekers.

“Some people it seems have been told different stories about their destination,” Dutton said. “New Zealand is now being marketed as a definite destination.”

Ardern said the focus needed to be on preventing the boats from ever leaving port.

“Unscrupulous people with no integrity will promote either destination for their financial benefit, without necessarily those victims involved having any sense of the reality of either country,” Ardern said.

Australia has stopped asylum seekers from attempting to reach its shores aboard rickety fishing boats from Indonesian ports by refusing to allow boat arrivals to ever resettle on the Australian mainland.

Australia pays the Pacific nations of Nauru and Papua New Guinea to keep asylum seekers from Asia, the Middle East and Africa in immigration camps off the mainland.

Ardern said that despite New Zealand not having similar policies, this didn’t make the country an easy target. “Our laws around people smugglers are strict, they carry a heavy penalty, and those individuals would be pursued if they ever were in New Zealand waters,” she said.

The boats used to arrive on Australian shores at a rate of more than one a day, but no boat smuggling people has arrived in Australia in almost four years.

But Dutton said 14,000 asylum seekers were waiting in Indonesia for a chance to come to Australia.

“People realize that New Zealand is a backdoor way into Australia, that New Zealand is a comparable society to Australia,” Dutton said. “It has a similar welfare system, similar health, education offerings, housing, etc. — it is marketed in the same way as Australia is as a positive destination.”

Air Vice-Marshal Stephen Osborne, commander of Australia’s Operation Sovereign Borders which blocks or turns back asylum-seeker boats that head toward Australia, described the ship stopped by the Malaysians as a “much larger vessel than we’ve seen for some time” and the smuggling operation as “far more complex and sophisticated” than previous attempts.

Malaysian police also raided a fishing boat used to transport the migrants to the vessel and detained three Indonesians and four Malaysians on board, Fuzi said. Another five Malaysians were arrested for suspected involvement in the smuggling syndicate.

A total of 127 Sri Lankans will be charged for entering Malaysia illegally while nine Malaysians, four Indonesians and four Sri Lankans will be investigated for human smuggling, Fuzi added.


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