“The Scum of the Earth”? Foreign People Smugglers and Their Local Counterparts in Indonesia

Antje Missbach, Frieda Sinanu


Since 2008, the number of asylum seekers and refugees trying to reach Australia from Indonesia by boat has increased. With many of them hailing from conflict-ridden countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Sri Lanka, most entered Indonesia with short-term tourist visas or fraudulent papers or no documents at all. It is widely known that a significant number of these ‘irregular’ migrants pay various types of brokers (often labelled, accurately or otherwise, ‘human smugglers’) at least at one stage – either to enter the country or to escape it. As a non-signatory to the UN Refugee Convention, Indonesia does not permit local integration. While a substantial part of these migrants are detained in the 13 immigration detention centres scattered around the archipelago, many roam freely, looking for opportunities for onward migration. Due to the restrictive border protection arrangements between Australia and Indonesia and a number of bilateral intelligence measures for deterring ‘unwanted’ migrants, human smugglers have been gradually forced to adapt strategies, routes and prices. According to much of the available data, most human smugglers are not Indonesians but foreigners who have been lingering in Indonesia for many years. This article demonstrates, moreover, that these foreigners depend upon local contacts to successfully carry out their risky business. Most often, the Indonesian counterparts are solely facilitators or handymen, but in a number of cases Indonesian authorities have also been involved in this highly lucrative business.

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