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Australia: Two Indonesian Nationals Sentenced to Prison for People Smuggling

(June 10, 2014) On June 5, 2014, a judge in the Perth District Court in Western Australia sentenced two Indonesian nationals to terms of imprisonment for their roles in a 2012 boat journey that resulted in the deaths of more than 100 asylum seekers who were trying to reach Australian territory. (Joanna Menagh, Indonesians Jailed for Doomed Asylum Seeker Journey in Which More than 100 People Died, ABC NEWS (June 5, 2014).)

The two men, fishermen aged 26 and 44, were crew members on a 72-foot wooden-hulled vessel that was loaded with more than 200 men from Pakistan and Afghanistan. The boat capsized in international waters about 100 nautical miles off Christmas Island, an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean 220 miles south of Indonesia, on June 21, 2012. (Asylum Seeker Disaster North of Christmas Island, ABC NEWS (June 22, 2012).) Australian authorities rescued 110 people, including the two crewmen. The two other crew members died in the incident. (Kaitlyn Offer, Indonesian Crew Deny 100-Death People Smuggling Charges, PERTH NOW (May 20, 2014).)

The two men were charged with assisting a group of five or more unlawful non-citizens to enter Australia, as well as with providing such assistance in a way that gave rise to a danger of death or serious harm. (Id.) These charges were brought under the Migration Act 1958 (Cth), which was amended in 2010 to increase the penalties available for people smuggling offenses. (Kelly Buchanan, Australia: Legislation to Combat People Smuggling Passed, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (May 20, 2010).) The maximum penalty for these aggravated people smuggling offenses is currently 20 years of imprisonment. (Migration Act 1958 (Cth) ss 233B & 233C.)

Both men pleaded not guilty to the charges. Upon conviction, the younger man, who was considered by the judge to have been “second in charge below the captain,” was sentenced to nine years’ imprisonment with a non-parole period of six years. The second man, a deckhand on the boat, was jailed for six years with a non-parole period of four years. Both will likely be deported after serving their sentences. (Joanna Menagh, supra.)

In addition to providing for harsher sentences for people convicted of people smuggling, Australia has tightened asylum-seeker rules in an attempt to dissuade people from taking dangerous boat journeys to enter Australia. Such journeys have resulted in a larger number of deaths due to the sinking of overloaded vessels in often rough seas. (Asylum-Seeker Deaths at Sea Total Nearly 1,000 in Just over a Decade, THE GUARDIAN (July 30, 2013).) Since September 2012, those arriving in Australian territory by boat have been transferred to detention centers on either Manus Island in Papua New Guinea or on Nauru, where they are held while their claims are processed. (Transfer of Asylum Seekers to Third Countries, Australian Human Rights Commission (Jan. 1, 2014).)