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Dying to reach Australia - the JP boat tragedy

By Duncan Graham - posted Friday, 23 December 2011

Australian politicians have blood on their hands. So do their Indonesian counterparts.

It's the blood of hundreds of asylum seekers who have perished in the Killing Seas trying to get from the Archipelago to Australia. They lost their lives because the politicians have failed to find a humane solution to the people smuggling curse.

Maybe 200 women, children and men drowned last weekend when a grossly overloaded boat capsized in heavy seas, 30 kilometers off the south coast of East Java. Eight died last month in a similar sinking.


The latest tragedy comes a year after 50 people perished when their flimsy wooden boat smashed into the cliffs of Christmas Island. This Australian territory is just 360 kilometers south of Jakarta. It's used to process asylum seekers.

Is there anyone more base than a human trafficker motivated by greed, indifferent to care and devoid of responsibility? They pack their customers into rickety craft like 18th century slave traders. The boats' engines frequently fail. Few carry lifesaving equipment. The crews are often incompetent kids.

Last year's Christmas Island sinking involved SIEV (Suspected Illegal Entry Vessel) 221. When it came within sight of land the captain reportedly sailed back to Indonesia on another ship.

Equally culpable are the officials who help get the Afghans, Iranians and others through Indonesia and onto floating coffins knowing the awful dangers.

When I last visited Prigi in the East Java regency of Trenggalek where the latest victims apparently set sail, I was called out by the local police chief asking who I was and what I was doing.

Prigi is a small tourist resort known for its white beach. I was there on a quiet holiday with Indonesians. We were behaving properly and bothering no one. Several locals had alerted the police to the presence of an outsider.


Survivors of this week's sinking told reporters they were taken to the coast from Jakarta in four busses. The arrival of so many foreigners could not have gone unnoticed by the police, the army, the harbormaster, local government officials and the general public.

Either human trafficking has become so blatant it no longer warrants attention, or money is changing wallets for men in uniform to study their bootlaces.

Press accounts in Australia allege that corrupt officials in Soekarno-Hatta were charging $US500 (Rp 4.5 million) to let individuals without visas through airport controls.

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This article was first published on December 20, 2011 in The Jakarta Post..

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About the Author

Duncan Graham is a Perth journalist who now lives in Indonesia in winter and New Zealand in summer. He is the author of The People Next Door (University of Western Australia Press) and Doing Business Next Door (Wordstars). He blogs atIndonesia Now.

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