The real story of the people who crew the boats is that they are lied to by the Mr Bigs, the organisers, who have little sense of responsibility towards them.
All of them come from poor families, so I appeal to the Australian government to have compassion and understanding for those they goal as people smugglers because they are only poor villagers, not the “big masterminds’’ who manage the racket.
The bosses go to the villages of near-destitute Indonesians offering what to them appear to be huge amounts of money for them to crew a boat somewhere. Usually they are told they will be required to go fishing for a few days or take a tourist for fishing or cargo wood to another island.
Then, when they have travelled for a couple of days, under escort by the organisers via GPS, they are abandoned and just told to continue in a certain direction. They have no idea as to where they are actually headed, nor that they are very likely to be arrested when they reach land. With no education or knowledge of a world outside their small villages, no English and separated from their families, their plight is indeed sad.
They feel they have deserted their families who cannot understand, when eventually given the news, why their men and children are in goal in Australia when they were only going fishing. Also, their families are now totally destitute, without the husband or father to provide food for them. They live in incredibly poor housing conditions.
Those who had jobs have lost them because they have been incarcerated in Australia. The masterminds find easy targets when men and children face the circumstances of little to eat and no prospects of a better life. Fathers cannot afford to send their children to school so the inter-generational cycle of poor education continues.
One of the saddest stories of “people smugglers’’ is that of “Kancil’s", an adult male. I spoke with Kancil on 13 May 2012, some time after his return to his home. He was very happy to be back with his family and related details about why he agreed to crew a boat to go fishing and his subsequent arrest and detention in Australia. Kancil comes from a poor suburb in Jakarta where he and his family live in extremely poor conditions.
After he returned from Australia, he relocated his family, moving home, because he was scared of the 'big boss', as he worried if this character would harm his family or himself. Almost all adult smugglers after they are released from Australian goals and sent back to Indonesia are intimidated and scared of crossing paths with their former "bosses".
Kancil was lured into crewing a boat when he was asked to go fishing for some days. For that he was to receive more money than he had ever had a chance to earn previously. The boat was met at Christmas Island by the Australian Navy and Kancil was one of those arrested. His boss, Mr Gombal, left him after he sighted Christmas Island and turned back to Indonesia in a different boat.
Kancil spent some time in Darwin detention during which weekly meetings took place between lawyers, police, and Indonesian and Immigration officials. Kancil and other “people smugglers’’ asked the lawyers, “Why only us go to goal and not the people who bring them to Australia?” The lawyers asked the police to answer the question for all “people smugglers’’ but the police told the lawyers to answer this. At every meeting the same question was asked but both the lawyers and police ignored it.
As the lawyers were not prepared to take instruction because of the language problem and not enough information about those in detention was known to those who came to visit them, they were told they should plead guilty to receive a 25% reduction in their sentences. Many of them agreed but their sentences were not reduced.
Kancil refused to plead guilty and was sent to Silverwater goal before being moved to Long Bay goal in March 2011. Because it was thought it would take 8-9 months for the “people smugglers’’ to be processed by Australian law, it was decided they should be sent to goal in the meantime.
While he was in Silverwater goal in Sydney he met a lawyer through Facebook. A few months later he saw two Australian lawyers. He told them he would never admit guilty and put his case in their hands. Six passengers who had been on the boat Kancil helped to crew were witnesses at his trial. Only one would have helped his case and Kancil told the Court that he was told what to do whilst sailing the boat and now in court the witnesses were giving him a hard time so he would go to goal.
Photos taken and provided by me of the extremely poor living conditions, showing his house and the surroundings, were of great assistance in Kancil’s case and he was FOUND NOT GUILTY. He was at last free after spending 1 year and 8 months in an Australian goal. He was free to leave a foreign country and see his family once again.
On 31 January 2012, before completion of Kancil’s trial in Australia I interviewed his wife in their home. They had to move from their previous home because their house was completely broken and the owner would not fix anything. Their present house is smaller and they live with their two children (a boy aged 9 and a girl aged 5) in a really poor area. The boy was going to school but since his father disappeared he mostly stays home because he has no pocket money to take to school and his friends often asked him where is your father. The girl was in kindergarten.
Because of such poverty many villagers are uneducated, naive and therefore easy prey for the big men behind the people smuggling. When I interviewed Kancil’s wife, she was working as a labourer in a wood factory. She had to lift heavy wood and put it in machines - a dangerous job and not a good place for women to work. However, with her husband away she needed money to support herself and the children. She had to bribe the supervisor at the factory to get the job and worked two shifts (7am – 6pm) (7pm – 6am) for just $A2.40 per day.
She worked 6 days per week and was able to exist by eating only twice a day. She received dinner at the factory when on night shift but on morning shift she had to take own lunch. She walked to the factory, which took 40 minutes each way. To take the bus would have meant they would not have money for food. Friends looked after the children while she was at work. All of her pay went on food for the children. She had to first credit the food at the market and then pay them back on Saturday or Sunday after her salary was paid. Before Kancil went to Australia he worked as a driver to deliver fish to places. He received about $A2 per day. Kancil’s wife told the children their father was working in his father’s village so they did not know he was in goal in Australia.
One day in 2010 Kancil brought home $A350 and gave it to his wife. He told her he had to go fishing for three days. She was surprised as he had never had big money before, but she used the money to live day to day with her children. If she had known what was to happen to her husband she would have tried to stop him and taken the money back to whoever had paid him. She began to worry about her husband after she had not seen him for 3 days but it was 6 months before she received a phone call from the Indonesian Embassy in Canberra to tell her that her husband was in goal in Australia. When the Embassy told her he had been arrested for people smuggling she said he had only gone fishing for 3 days.
Now that he is free and back in Indonesia, Kancil feels he should try and help those still in goal, particularly the young boys. Recently he received a phone call from a friend still in Australia who told him that in Brisbane, Perth and Melbourne they were all confused because no-one had been sent back to Indonesia yet. One of the minors Kancil knows pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 3 years’ goal and is now in Muswellbrook goal. He was tired because the case took a long time and too many questions, so he decided to plead guilty. He was scared to give his correct details to the police. His family (sister, brother and grandmother) live near the boss’s house. He is an orphan as his parents passed away long ago. He and his 2 siblings live with his grandmother and he needs to keep them safe. Before he ended up in Australia he was the only one working for them. Now no-one can help his family in the village where they live.
Kancil received information from a friend that they would be picked up in Australia by the bosses. They were told everything would be sorted out within 2 months. All the adult people smugglers complained that the bosses did not pay them. So their families were left with no-one to help them and their children could not go to school because their fathers and husbands are in Australian goals. The boat people are upset because they took the passengers and they are in goal while the passengers are set free in Australia. They were also upset because the excuse the passengers used to get into the country was that their country is in a mess.
Kancil has the names of quite a few who were told by their lawyer to admit guilty so they could get a 25% reduction in sentence, but the reality is they got 3 years in goal. Two Mr X in Broken Hill goal for 3 years, one in Muswellbrook for 3 years and another one in Cessnock for 3 years. All these goals are in the state of New South Wales.
* Not his real name
In late December 2011, I visited some very young men – minors in fact – held detained at Villawood Detention Centre in Sydney and to be arrested on the charge of people-smuggling.
All of them had been lured to crew boats for what to them appeared big money. All come from very poor, quite desperate living conditions, and the money to be earned was to help their families in day-to-day living, schooling and medical expenses – just to survive.
They all have very close family ties and were distraught at being incarcerated in a goal in a foreign country and indeed in an adult prison, when in fact they are children.
They had little or no English and no one spoke their language well enough and therefore they could not communicate their thoughts and fears. In some cases they did not know the names of the lawyers allocated to them. None of them knew where the boats were really headed and in any case many believed when they reached Christmas Island they were still in Indonesia. On average at 15 years old, they were mere children who had led very sheltered lives. They agreed to crew boats because they only wanted to help their families and this was an amazing opportunity.
Some of the boys cried when speaking to me: they were so sad to be in goal and in detention and felt utter relief to be able to unburden themselves by speaking to someone who could understand their language
When arrested over a year ago, Sakit was barely 15 years old and was a recent arrival to the Detention Centre when I visited him. He had spent one month on Christmas Island, 5 months at Darwin and 8 months in Silverwater Prison and one week at Villawood Detention Centre before finally heading back to his village in Indonesia. He had been promised 17 million Rupiah ($ A 2000) but the “boss” had run away without paying him any money. Although inmates earn a little while in goal it has to be spent on shop, washing, cooking equipment, TV privileges, phone cards and so on.
He worked from Monday to Friday, 6 hours per day from 8am till 2pm. He earned $30 per week, which is the equivalent to $1 per hour. He worked as a janitor/cleaner (wiping tables, serving food and cleaning). People in goal liked him because he was the younger and smaller. He had lived for a long time with his grandmother.
When he returned to Indonesia, his brother told him that his grandmother was very ill because she thought her grandson had died at sea while fishing. He could not visit his grandmother because he had no money after leaving goal.
Another young man in Villawood was Lukas who was 18 years old when apprehended. In goal if a person is sick they have to request an appointment with the doctor. They must fill in a form and it takes 1 to 2 weeks to see the doctor.
The lad could not speak English so could he not fill in the form. In frustration because he could not be understood, he hit the officer and was put in a “cage’’ where he could not see day or night for 3 days. Although what he did was wrong, this was a frightening experience for him – all alone in a foreign country and no one to understand him. The lawyer who had been allocated to him could not speak Indonesian.
I felt sympathetic towards him when he told me of his loneliness, as there was no one to comfort or understand him. He was working in goal folding clothes and replacing the foam from headsets and then inserting them into plastic bags. The guards in goal liked him because he was a hard worker, helping to pick up the dirty plates from the goal people and taking them to the kitchen. Sometimes the guards gave him $A 5 tips for his hard work.
He had been promised good money to crew a boat escorting tourists from Surabaya to Bali. Because his father is blind and his mother is almost blind due to cataracts, he jumped at the chance to help them have operations. Medical attention is exceptionally expensive in Indonesia. He has since been deported back to Indonesia but of course he did not receive the money so desperately needed.
Another 15 and half years old when apprehended was Tompel. He lived with his uncle and he has a sister and brother to look after. He is an orphan, because his parents passed away when he was little. He studied till year 8 and he quit high school in year 9 because he had to help his brother to look after the family. One day as he was about to go fishing, someone came and asked him whether he would like a different job. He was told if he could bring wood from Kupang to Mataram, Lombok he would be paid $A60. He took the job but, of course, he has received no money. He went on the boat, fell asleep one day and woke up surrounded by many people. He asked about the wood and was told not to worry but to look out for a colourful flag with many stars. He was to stop there and everyone would get off the boat.
However, the Australian Navy met them. He was in Silverwater Prison for just over 7 months, having been on Christmas Island and Darwin. He did not know the name of his lawyer and he was crying because no one seemed to be able to help him, including the Indonesian counsel in Sydney. He said that Silverwater Prison was horrible because he was locked up from 3pm till 8am the next day. He worked from Monday till Friday from 8am till 2pm.
He received $A42 per week. He underwent a wrist-bone x- ray and the result assessed him at 20 years of age but he was 16 years old. The x-ray is always wrong because they x-rayed him several times and also another minor in the same room with him.
Another youth was Kawan who was born in October 1994; he would have been 16 when arrested. He had been in Australia for one year 4 months - in goal and Detention Centre. When he was in goal he didn’t understand what was going on until he was allocated an interpreter who was from an Indonesian background. His parents are very ill and poor which is why he took the job but he never got any money.
He cried every day and he didn’t know why he was there. He was going mental so they moved him from Silverwater Prison to Long Bay Prison. Long Bay Prison is for people who are sick. A doctor visited him 3 times per week, but it didn’t help him. He said he didn’t want to stay anymore. If he did he would commit suicide.
He didn’t have any job in goal but he got $A15 from the government allowance allocated to prisoners per week. He used this money to buy his food and phone card, which wasn’t enough.
I found all of these cases desperately sad and one can only have the deepest sympathy for the plight of fellow human beings who are lured into crewing boats for simple purposes, such as fishing or carrying wood, only to find themselves incarcerated in a foreign country and no-one to understand their explanations of why they were there. All of those I visited have since been deported back to Indonesia but they have then faced additional hardship. Their time in Australian goals and detention has cost them any employment they had had before leaving their villages on the false promises of remuneration.
Why does the Australian government put minors (children) accused of people smuggling in tight security adult goals? When my friend visited one of the minors in Silverwater Prison he told me that the boy was too scared to say anything because of the tight security conditions. He was scared if guards heard any conversation that it could lead to a longer prison stay and that he may never go back to his village to see his family, especially his parents.
They are not criminals and they are under age but the government put them with the convicted criminals in maximum security prisons. My friend even could not bring food or drink to him because of tight security.
During 2011, one Australian 14 year old boy was caught with drugs in Bali but the Indonesian government didn’t put him in tight security. The Australian government should have done the same as the Indonesian government and respected the rights of the children. Should the Australian fourteen year old been treated like the Indonesian children have in Australia? The Australian boy’s parents could visit him many times and bring lovely food to him. He even was even offered fried rice where he was kept, but he liked to eat Kentucky fried chicken. His father was able to buy and bring things to him and even his father could sleep with him. Why can’t the Australian government do likewise because these boys are under-age? The 14-year-old boy is very lucky to be free when you consider the penalty for possession and trafficking of drugs in Indonesia. The drug penalty in Indonesia is death or imprisonment for life.
The Indonesian children are locked in their rooms from 3pm till 8am the next day but the Australian boy in Bali was not. He was indeed culpable of criminal activity who used the drug but the Indonesian children have been manipulated by the organizers of boats carrying asylum seekers or their middle persons.
This is the real story of the Indonesian children caught up in boat people sagas.
*Not the real name
Lisa Hiariej is an Indonesian and Australian lawyer.
Mob: +62 8787 386 3320 (Indonesia)
Mob: +61 420 410 418 ( Australia)
Lisa Hiariej, an Indonesian and Australian lawyer.