Academic journal article SOJOURN: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia

Making a "Career" in People-Smuggling in Indonesia: Protracted Transit, Restricted Mobility and the Lack of Legal Work Rights

Academic journal article SOJOURN: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia

Making a "Career" in People-Smuggling in Indonesia: Protracted Transit, Restricted Mobility and the Lack of Legal Work Rights

Article excerpt

... without the help of people smugglers, refugees are left to face persecution or death at the hands of whatever tyranny threatens them.

--Julian Burnside (2013)

Why People-smuggling Exists

This article sheds light on the reasons for which some failed asylum seekers have opted to become involved in people-smuggling in Indonesia. Portraying two convicted Afghan smugglers and retracing their paths from rejection as asylum seekers to their involvement in people-smuggling ventures, it points out the limited options that asylum seekers--most of whom are unable to return to their war-ridden home countries, to integrate properly into Indonesian society or to move to a safe third country--have for making a living. In examining the two case studies in the wider context of the Indonesian people-smuggling industry, the article also provides insight into the evolution of people-smuggling networks in Indonesia and into the ways in which networks have adjusted their operations as demand for smuggling has increased and as enforcement of anti-people-smuggling provisions has intensified.

The paucity of research into people-smuggling and the irregular migration of asylum seekers in the Asia-Pacific region means that the examination of the links between Indonesia, a transit country, and Australia, the preferred destination country for asylum seekers transiting through Indonesia, brings insights from this region to the study of the fast-developing global people-smuggling industry. Smuggling operations in Indonesia deserve special attention. For they differ considerably from operations in North Africa and the southeastern border states of the European Union, where less professionalized varieties of smuggling--such as self-smuggling and spontaneous and demand-driven operations--seem to occur. Whereas along the European and the Mexican-American borders smuggling is a crime that is organized, but is not necessarily organized crime (Papadopoulou-Kourkoula 2008, p. 73; Sanchez 2014), people-smuggling from Indonesia to Australia requires high levels of planning and preparation. In Indonesia, the infrastructure for the irregular movement of asylum seekers is similar to the "black box" that Lindquist et al. (2012, pp. 7-9) have described in the context of irregular labour mobility in Southeast Asia. People-smuggling is primarily viewed with reference to its inputs and outputs--the number of people who leave and arrive--but there is little understanding of the details of its actual operation.

This article directs attention to the smuggling operations that take place after asylum seekers have arrived in Indonesia and as they then seek to leave Indonesia for Australia by boat instead of enduring the time-consuming process of gaining refugee status and the subsequent, even more time-consuming, process of resettlement. Its main objective is to call attention to the evolution of the extensive and professionalized people-smuggling industry in Indonesia that has resulted from the rise in the number of asylum seekers opting to apply for asylum after reaching their preferred country of resettlement, instead of doing so in a transit country. Indonesia's selective border control, lenient law enforcement and widespread corruption have also fostered the growth of people-smuggling networks in the country (Missbach and Crouch 2013, pp. 3-5; Missbach 2014a, pp. 230-35). In particular, Indonesia's lenient treatment of transiting asylum seekers has allowed the networks to flourish (Crouch and Missbach 2013, pp. 9-14; Nethery and Gordyn 2014, pp. 185-88).

The case studies below of two men convicted of people-smuggling reveal that smugglers are not just criminals; there is another side to their story. Taking into consideration their previous failure--not necessarily self-inflicted--to gain recognition from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) as genuine refugees, they can be considered "victim-offenders", to use a label suggested by Block et al. …

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