People Smugglers?

by Gerry Georgatos

Hypocrisy never ceases to amaze and often serves to highlight immoral predicaments.

Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd is concerned about the rights of a 14 year old Australian child who was arrested by entrapment for possession of marijuana in Bali. The child is not in an Indonesian adult prison however he is in custody and within the appropriate jurisdiction. I feel for him however he has a journey before the Indonesian Children’s Court.

During July I spoke to Prime Minister Julia Gillard about the thereabouts 100 Indonesian children languishing in Australian adult prisons. They range in age from 13 to 17 years. It has been a long and arduous journey to have some of them released – some have been released via court proceedings and some by behind the scenes efforts. I contacted Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd and he promised he would assist. He has not. When I spoke to Prime Minister Julia Gillard, and as we held hands throughout the conversation, her warm smile froze to a worried silence in presuming another scandal-in-waiting.

Australia is yet to ensure appropriate age-determination protocols and adequate consular notifications so these children, some of the world’s most impoverished children, do not finish up in adult jurisdictions with murderers, sex offenders and hardened criminals. How is it Minister Rudd is concerned about the plight of a 14 year old Australian who is before the appropriate jurisdictions in Indonesia and yet he is not concerned about 100 Indonesian children in Australian adult prisons?

The mantra of “breaking the people smugglers’ model business model” has caused much damage and perceptually modified public views. Is “people smuggling” a reality or is it a myth, and is the assisting in the passage of an asylum seeker immoral and criminal?

I was stunned when a GetUP! campaign against the Malaysian option quoted, “it’s understandable that the Minister cannot offer a blanket exemption to any class of asylum seekers, for fear that people smugglers will exploit it to their advantage.” There are many Asylum Seekers who cannot find safe passage from persecution and oppression without the assistance of others.

I do not question that there maybe some who have profiteered in assisting asylum seekers, however is this a crime? Migration agents get paid for their services. Who doesn’t? Let us remind ourselves that much of what is paid to so-called people smugglers is also spent on ensuring their safe passage.

If Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Minister Chris Bowen want to break what they perceive as the people smugglers business model they should listen to the Director of Refugee and Asylum Law at the University of Michigan, James Hathaway, “Canada and other developed countries created the market on which smugglers depend by erecting migration walls around their territories. The more difficult it is to get across a border to safety on one’s own, the more sensible it is to hire a smuggler to navigate the barriers to entry. Smugglers are thus the critical bridge to get at-risk people to safety. Which one of us, if confronted with a desperate need to flee but facing seemingly impossible barriers, would not seek out a smuggler to assist us?”

Perceived people smugglers are actually people who save lives and if we could remove ourselves from the racism and xenophobia we would appreciate them and their brave daring as we do Oskar Schindler and Nancy Wake.

Humanity has a history of heroes who have smuggled people to safety and to destinations throughout the world where human advancement can prosper. 250,000 Hungarians were assisted by ‘agents’ to flee the Stalinist persecutions following the 1956 revolt. Oskar Schindler took monies to pay monies to help thousands of individuals to freedom. Recent tributes revered the life of Australian Nancy Wake, a ‘people smuggler’ who during German occupied Europe saved many lives.

Many people smugglers were asylum seekers and refugees and they understand the predicament of their peoples. Iraqi Ali Jenabi’s brother was killed by Saddam Hussein’s forces. He arrived in Indonesia penniless and to earn passage for his family to Australia, and which included his mother, sisters, brothers and an uncle he worked for perceived people smugglers. His family finally arrived in 3 separate boats.

Ali Jenabi’s humanity continued and he has since helped many others seek passage, including those with no money. He is a hero to the Iraqi communities of Australia however a perceived people smuggler to Prime Minister Julia Gillard. He could face ten years jail whereas Oskar Schindler and Nancy Wake have received every tribute.

Australia’s misrepresentation of those who assist asylum seekers in their safe passage and their labelling as people smugglers has now caught up young children, who were no more than cooks and deckhands on the boats lawfully seeking asylum to our shores. There are now over 400 of Indonesia’s impoverished fisherpeople serving five year sentences in Australian prisons. Many of them are children. There are hundreds more waiting on remand and others in immigration detention.

The method used to determine the age of the children, the wrist-bone age scan, has been widely discredited by paediatric endocrinologists and by the Australian Medical Association, and is unlawful in the UK as a means to determine age, however the Australian government continues to rely on it.

Lawyer, David Manne set a precedent by challenging the Australian Government in the High Court over the lawfulness of the Malaysia option. At this time in the Victorian Courts, and what may finish up in the High Court, lawyers are arguing that asylum seekers have a legal right to come to Australia and that perceived people smugglers in fact have a legal right to assist them, and in fact they have never done anything unlawful. Indeed paragraphs 232 and 233 of the Migration Act support this argument. A few years ago 27 legal experts explained to a Senate Estimates Inquiry that indeed there is nothing unlawful in assisting people with safe passage to foreign shores. The incarceration of people as ‘people smugglers’ is unlawful, and the incarceration of Indonesian youth and children as ‘cooks and deckhands’ is a human rights abuse.

If the Victorian Courts uphold the arguments that there is no such thing as people smuggling per se in regards to the ‘business model’ then this will have a wide reaching implication and may expedite the freedom of many. Australia would be best served by working with those humanitarians who risk their lives trying to help others to our shores, and by pulling down the migration walls and by raising our humanitarian quota for refugees to for instance 50,000 and set an example world-wide.
Gerry Georgatos
Western Australia reporter, The National Indigenous Times
Donnybrook-Bridgetown Mail correspondent
Online Editor, News Worldwide Today

Managing Consultant – Education, Training, Advocacy
Human Rights Practice – 0430 657 309

BA (Phil), BA (Med), BA (AIS),
G/Dip (Human Rights Ed), MHumRgts, MA (Social Justice)
Researcher in Australian Deaths in Custody
Consultant & Advocate, Human Rights Practice
Convener, Human Rights Alliance (WA) (Australia) – Refugee Rights Actions Network
Ecological, Social Justice, Aboriginal Group (WA)
Bridgetown-Balingup Amnesty Group

‘Go tell the Spartans, Passerby, that here, obedient to their laws, we lie.’ Molwn labe

“A theologian said that all will be well with me and all permitted to the degree that I obey the Council, and he added, ‘If the council were to declare that you have but one eye, despite the fact that you may have two, it is your duty to agree with the Council.’ I replied to him: ‘Even if the whole world were to affirm that, I, utilising whatever reason I may possess, could not acknowledge such a thing without a rejection of my conscience.'” (Karel Kosik, Czech philosopher and victim)”When enough rise, change happens.”


Artwork in banner is from KATE DURHAM’S “SIEV-X…and Some were Saved”

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